aviation infrastructure

Aviation

D+

Overview

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s airports were facing growing capacity challenges. Over a two-year period, passenger travel steadily increased from 964.7 million to 1.2 billion per year, yet flight service only increased from 9.7 to 10.2 million flights per year — contributing in part to a total of nearly 96 million delay minutes for airline passengers in 2019. Terminal, gate, and ramp availability was not meeting the needs of a growing passenger base. Under pre-COVID-19 projections, our aviation system was set to have a 10-year, $111 billion funding shortfall, and that gap has likely grown significantly as passenger volumes dropped in March 2020 and have yet to recover. However, funding from Congress has risen from $11 billion annually to approximately $15 billion from 2017 to 2020. These additional investments are driving some early results as measured by improved economic performance.

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aviation infrastructure
Highlights

The largest portion of the investment need

at airports

is for terminal buildings

Airfield pavement maintenance occurs

on a four to seven year cycle,

while more significant repairs take place on a 15-25 year cycle

As the pandemic continues,

the complex revenue streams that airports depend on

for infrastructure improvements are likely to remain in flux

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics9

Capacity & Condition

The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) identifies 3,304 public-use airports in the U.S., which includes approximately 520 commercial service airports. More than 2,500 of these NPIAS airports are categorized as general aviation supporting flight training and emergency services.

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Funding & Future Need

Our nation’s airports have diverse revenue and funding streams, but total financial resources fall short of the sector’s estimated needs. These resources include federal, state, and local grants; revenue from general obligation bonds; airport cash flow through concession fees and other revenue mechanisms; and public–private partnerships (P3s). The two primary federal sources of airport revenue come from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which is funded generally through aviation fuel and airline ticket taxes, and the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), which is funded through a federally mandated $4.50 capped user fee.

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aviation infrastructure impacted by covid-19

Operations, Maintenance, & Innovation

Airport operations and maintenance activities are influenced by many factors, including the age of the facilities, aircraft use patterns, and weather exposure, to name a few. Preventive maintenance such as seal coat surface treatment, patching, and crack-sealing must be regularly performed to protect and preserve airfield pavement, while also serving to keep long-term rehabilitation costs down. Airfield pavement maintenance occurs on a four- to seven-year cycle, while more significant repairs take place on a 15- to 25-year cycle.

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Public Safety & Resilience

The people and commerce using the nation’s air transportation system are protected by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While TSA’s primary focus is placed on screening areas and eliminating airplane hijackings, safety goes beyond screening points. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has played a major role in airport safety protocols. In February 2021, TSA implemented an executive order requiring individuals to wear a mask at TSA screening checkpoints and throughout the commercial and public transportation systems until at least May 2021. To support airport security, $4.9 million of federal funds were spent on airport security in FY 2020 — consistent with federal spending since FY 2017. However, the NPIAS has identified that from 2021 to 2025, anticipated needs for safety and security projects account for $1.6 billion, or nearly 4% of overall airport funding needs.

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Raising the Grade

Solutions that Work

Airport authorities should develop plans to improve resilience to potential catastrophic events, whether it be seismic incidents, weather-related disasters, cybersecurity threats, or global pandemics. Strong revenue mechanisms must be developed that can withstand changes in passenger travel and provide long-term revenue certainty.

Airports should continue to invest in capacity enhancements that will accommodate projected capacity needs based on pre-COVID-19 pandemic trends.

Raise or eliminate the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) to allow airports the needed revenue to invest in their infrastructure.

Support efforts to increase federal funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and continue to support user fee mechanisms that fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and maintain budgetary firewalls.

Explore the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) to support existing funding efforts.

Support innovative technology, like NextGen, that offers the ability to reduce congestion and improve capacity.

Continue to recognize that there needs to be a strategic balance between infrastructure investment, enhanced safety measures, and technology improvements, both in investment and long-term planning.

View Report Sources

1 American Society of Civil Engineers, “Failure to Act: Economic Impacts of Status Quo Investment Across Infrastructure Systems,” 2021.

2 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2021-2025.”

3 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Passengers: All Carriers – All Airports.”

4 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Flights: All Carriers – All Airports.”

5 American Society of Civil Engineers, “Failure to Act: Economic Impacts of Status Quo Investment Across Infrastructure Systems,” 2021.

6 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Annual Airline On-Time Rankings 2003-2019.”

7 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes.”

8 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes.”

9 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes.”

10 Airports Council International–North America, “Terminally Challenged: Addressing the Infrastructure Funding Shortfall of America’s Airports: 2019-2023.”

11 Airports Council International–North America, “Terminally Challenged: Addressing the Infrastructure Funding Shortfall of America’s Airports: 2019-2023.”

12 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2015-2019.”

13 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2017-2021.”

14 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2019-2023.”

15 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2021-2025.”

16 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Passengers: All Carriers – All Airports.”

17 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “U.S. Airline Passengers.”

18 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Key Passenger Facility Charge Statistics, (PFC Branch),” December 31, 2020.

19 Airports Council International–North America, “Terminally Challenged: Addressing the Infrastructure Funding Shortfall of America’s Airports: 2021-2025.”

20 American Society of Civil Engineers, “Failure to Act: Economic Impacts of Status Quo Investment Across Infrastructure Systems,” 2021.

21 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2019-2023.”

22 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Modernization of U.S. Airspace.”

23 U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, “FAA Needs To Strengthen Its Management Controls Over the Use and Oversight of NextGen Developmental Funding,” FAA Report No. AV2018030, March 6, 2018.

24 U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, “FAA Has Made Progress in Implementing Its Metroplex Program, but Benefits for Airspace Users Have Fallen Short of Expectations,” FAA Report No. AV2019062, August 27, 2019.

25 Transportation Security Administration, “Mission.”

26 Transportation Security Administration, “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information.”

27 U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “Transportation Fatalities by Mode.”

28 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2021-2025.”

29 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, “Report to Congress: National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS): 2019-2023.”


Photo Attributions

All photos courtesy of WSP USA

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