Monday, January 23, 2017
Des Moines airport's new terminal may depend upon Trump
By Joel Aschbrenner
The Des Moines (IA) Register
Throughout the campaign, now-President Donald Trump called for spending money to improve the nation’s infrastructure. He said roads and bridges were crumbling and compared U.S. airports with Third World countries.
Among the most eager to see if Trump keeps his infrastructure promise are officials at the Des Moines International Airport.
For several years, airport officials have been working on a $500 million plan to overhaul the airfield, move numerous facilities and build a new passenger terminal. The airport has refined the plan several times, but is still $200 million short.
Trump’s focus on improving infrastructure is providing hope that the airport can close the funding gap.
“It’s encouraging to know at a federal level that they are focusing on infrastructure development,” Des Moines International Airport Executive Director Kevin Foley said.
While details about Trump’s specific infrastructure plans are sparse, his economic advisers have proposed offering about $140 billion in tax credits to private companies that invest in infrastructure. They say it could spur about $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, though critics are skeptical.
The Des Moines International Airport is moving ahead
Trump’s transition team recently asked all 50 governors for a list of their top infrastructure priorities. Gov. Terry Branstad included the airport terminal on his wish list, ranking it as the fifth most important project statewide.
The other projects included Mississippi River lock and dam upgrades, improvements to the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, construction of a Cedar Rapids flood mitigation system and an overhaul of the Interstate 80-Interstate 380 interchange.
An infrastructure bill is just one way a new terminal could be funded. Foley said the most likely route to a new terminal is through an increase in the per-flight fee known as "passenger facility charges."
PFCs are added to every airline ticket and help pay for improvements at airports nationwide. One proposal would increase the fee from $4.50 to $8.50 — meaning passengers would pay $4 more per flight.
Airport leaders have advocated for the increase, arguing that the fee, which was set in 2000, has not kept up with inflation, leading to billions of dollars in deferred maintenance at airports nationwide.
Airlines, meanwhile, have fought against the fee, saying it would make flights more expensive and arguing that airports already take in enough revenue for facilities.
Increasing the PFC to $8.50 would not fully fund the terminal. But it would be a big step.
Doing some back-of-the-napkin math, Foley estimated the airport could raise about $100 million from such an increase by bonding against the future revenue.
“We would still have to find another $100 million, but I think that is doable through other sources,” he said.
Previous attempts to increase the PFCs have stalled in Congress, but Foley said he is hopeful the proposal will get a fresh look during the Trump administration.
“There is a realization from political leaders that infrastructure and all forms of transportation have a huge economic impact on this country,” he said.