Sky Talk

Should airline passengers pay more to improve America’s airports?

DFW Airport announced the completion of revamped Terminal A in January.
DFW Airport announced the completion of revamped Terminal A in January.

President Donald Trump wants to modernize America’s infrastructure, but someone will have to pay for it.

When it comes to improving airports, it might be passengers who pay more.

A new bill introduced in Congress on Wednesday aims to lift a 17-year-old cap on a fee that’s passed on to passengers for capital projects. The CEO of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport voiced support for the idea while testifying before Congress on the future of America’s airports.

The bill, introduced by Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, lifts the maximum passenger facility charge, a per-passenger fee that airports may levy to fund infrastructure projects. The fee is currently capped at $4.50 per flight. If the bill passes, airports would have the freedom to charge customers more to pay for upgrades to runways, terminals and gates.

DeFazio argued that his bill is a better solution to infrastructure problems at airports than raising taxes.

“Those who don’t fly, they don’t have to pay. It’s not coming out of the general fund,” DeFazio said. “Those who do fly benefit from the improvements, and they pay a little bit for a better experience.”

DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue said he supported the idea but that large airports like his would find a way to fund needed infrastructure projects and raise the passenger facility charge only if absolutely necessary.

“The PFC is critical to help us, but it’s not the silver bullet,” Donohue said. “I recognize at DFW, given our size, we are in a position where we will find a way, one way or the other, to fund our infrastructure projects.”

He said DFW Airport got about $130 million a year from the passenger facility charge, just over 10 percent of the airport’s $900 million a year in revenue.

DFW is in the midst of a $3 billion terminal renovation program, spending $900 million of the program to renovate Terminal A. Two other terminals, B and E, are expected to be completed in the next year. However, plans to upgrade Terminal C have been put on hold as American Airlines, the terminal’s only user, determines its future needs.

Once the airport completes the renovations, Donohue told the committee, the airport still has $5 billion to $10 billion in capital infrastructure requirements going forward for improvements such as roads, bridges, runways and terminals. The airport currently has $6 billion in debt from bonds that it issued for the renovations and to build an international terminal and rental car center last decade.

After the hearing, Donohue indicated that despite his airport’s support for the legislation, it’s unlikely that Dallas/Fort Worth’s passenger fees will be raised in the near future, because of intense competition with other large hubs across the country.

Star-Telegram reporter Andrea Ahles contributed to this article.