Infrastructure plan offsets lack of detail in Trump Administration budget request

14 February 2018
US President Donald Trump (pictured on 30 January 2018 during his first State of the Union speech) did not mention airports in his fiscal year 2019 budget request – but a separate infrastructure document, released on the same day as the budget, shed some light on his plans. Source: Getty

US airport officials have been left somewhat disappointed by a lack of detail in the Trump Administration's USD4.4 trillion budget request for fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019), announced on 12 February, despite anticipating a strong show of support from the President. However, a strategy document released simultaneously does provide more information.

During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump regularly called for sweeping improvements to US infrastructure. He singled out airports as in particular need for upgrades, often referring to their “Third World” condition.

In an official message accompanying the FY 2019 budget request, President Trump described plans to build “stunning” new bridges, railways, tunnels, water treatment facilities, and highways – but investment in airport infrastructure was conspicuous by its absence.

To make matters worse, the FY 2019 budget request includes a cut in funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), freezes the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) at USD3.35 billion, and omits to mention reform of the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC).

It also proposes legislation to cut the Essential Air Service (EAS) budget from USD150 million to USD93 million. The budget request document notes that “many EAS flights are not full and have high per passenger subsidy costs”, adding that several EAS-eligible communities are relatively close to major airports.

The airport sector's reaction to the budget was understandably muted. “The Trump Administration's infrastructure proposal offers some administrative enhancements that, if enacted into law, may accelerate certain aviation projects, but it does not provide significant increased resources for airport infrastructure,” noted Trevor Daley, chief of external affairs at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA).

Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) were particularly disappointed by the missed opportunity to tackle the long-running PFC issue by giving airports more operational freedom.

“Allowing airports the flexibility to update their PFC is an important first step in getting investment in our nation’s airport infrastructure back on track with the rest of the world,” ACI-NA argued, while AAAE CEO Todd Hauptli urged the Trump Administration to “move quickly to approve the bipartisan proposal on PFCs that is under consideration as part of the FY 2018 budget package”.

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