WASHINGTON -- The aviation director at Buffalo Niagara International Airport joined other aviation executives for a White House meeting Thursday and left convinced that President Donald J. Trump wants to improve America's airports.
"The president made it clear that he's genuinely interested in making the air travel experience in America second to none in the world," William R. Vanecek, the Buffalo aviation director, said after the White House meeting.
Executives from the nation's leading airlines attended the meeting along with airport managers. Vanecek attended in his role as chairman of Airports Council International-North America.
"We were there to talk about the challenges facing the airlines and airports collectively," Vanecek said. "There was a big focus on infrastructure."
Trump plans on proposing a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement plan, and part of that money would go to improve airports.
"Our airports used to be the best," Trump said at the meeting. "Now they're at the bottom of the rung."
Trump wants to improve existing U.S. airports -- many were built more than 40 years ago -- so that they improve the passenger experience so it's on a par with what passengers get when they travel through major airports in Europe and Asia.
“We have an obsolete plane system, we have obsolete trains, we have obsolete airports, we have bad roads,” the president said at the meeting. “And we’re going to change all that.”
Trump's infrastructure plan is expected to rely heavily on tax credits that would give private developers the incentive to build new public-works projects, rather than through direct public funding.
Vanecek said he told the president that private-public partnerships may work on some airport improvement projects, but that others -- particularly those at smaller airports -- will still require direct government funding. Vanecek also noted that, in many cases, funding needs would be the same at the smallest and largest airports. A new runway at Los Angeles International Airport would cost about the same as one at the comparatively tiny Niagara Falls International Airport.
Vanecek said he also raised passenger facility charges that air travelers pay as part of their ticket. The passenger facility charge of $4.50 per flight has not been increased since 2000, and its value has dramatically eroded because of inflation, he said.
Trump called the U.S. air traffic control system outdated, saying it needs to move beyond radar to more often use GPS technology, Vanecek said.
The president also said he intended to reduce taxes and regulator burdens on the airlines. For their part, executives from the major U.S. airlines used the meeting to complain about what they see as unfair competition from three Persian Gulf air carriers whose governments heavily subsidize their flights.