Amid rumors that a group of truckers would tie up the Capitol Beltway on Friday to protest Congress, a group of airport executives wisely chose the Capitol steps Thursday, rather than an airport runway, to make the same point.
On a cold, rainy day in Washington, members of the Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives said the aviation community had had enough of sequestration, or across the board spending cuts, and the partial government shutdown, as it stretched into its ninth day.
"Airports and our aviation system have bent under the continuous strain of these repeated crises, and we are on the verge of breaking," said Todd Hauptli, who leads the airport executive group's advocacy effort in Congress.
Hauptli noted that sequestration had caused the Federal Aviation Administration to furlough air traffic controllers in the spring. After an outcry from lawmakers and airlines, Congress allowed the agency to shift funds to bring the controllers back to work.
But that solution was bad for airports: The FAA took $250 million from a fund intended to pay for airport improvements. Not only that, but they were funds that passengers had already paid with every ticket purchase specifically for that purpose.
"Those investments are gone forever," Hauptli said, at a time when many airports have new runways and terminals on the drawing board.
The groups pushed lawmakers to never again allow Airport Improvement Program funds to be siphoned off to pay for FAA operations. They also want Congress to replace the sequester's "meat-ax" approach to spending cuts.
In the longer term, the groups want Congress to break the habit of passing stopgap spending measures. Before President Barack Obama signed the last FAA reauthorization bill last year, the previous legislation had been extended 23 times. The current one expires in 2015.
And when it comes up again, the airports want something else: The ability to raise the Passenger Facility Charge, which funds airport improvements. It's now capped at $4.50 per ticket and has lost about half its value to inflation.