U.S. airports call for $75.7 billion in upgrades over the next four years

More than half of the upgrades needed at U.S. airports will go to meet passenger and cargo growth

As the airline industry lobbies to kill a passenger fee increase to pay for airport projects, a group of airport operators issued a report saying U.S. airports need $75.7 billion in upgrades through 2019 to handle growing travel demand.

The report by the Airports Council International-North America said that more than half of the airport projects are needed to accommodate the increase in passengers and cargo. Another 38% of the upgrades are needed to maintain the airports in a state of good repair.

"It is clear that the existing federally mandated funding system cannot meet U.S. airport capital needs for modernizing and expanding airport capacity which is critical for a safe, efficient and globally competitive aviation system," the report said.

Large hub airports, such as Los Angeles International Airport, will need about 53% of the $75.7 billion in upgrades, the report said. 

The report comes as the nation's airlines and airport operators debate an increase in the passenger facility charge proposed by the Obama administration to help pay for airport improvement projects. The latest budget proposed by the president calls for an $8 per segment fee, up from the $4.50 fee now paid by airline passengers.

The airline industry has opposed the increase, saying it will hurt demand for air travel. Airport officials say the extra $2.3 billion raised annually by the increase will help expand and modernize old and cramped airports.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation's airlines, said the nation's airports have access to funds from other sources. "The truth is, the money is there," said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for the group. "And the increase is unnecessary."

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that air travel demand will grow by 2.5% per year over the next 20 years, with 1 billion passengers flying annually by 2029. 

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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