President Barack Obama said the US has none of the world’s top 25 airports and argued that the legislative fix to the air traffic controller furlough issue hinders long-term efforts to improve the nation’s lagging airport infrastructure.
“There was a recent [Skytrax] survey of the top airports in the world and there was not a single US airport that came in the top 25,” Obama said during a Tuesday press conference. “Not one. Not one US airport was considered by the experts and consumers who use these airports to be in the top 25 in the world … What does that say about our long-term competitiveness and future?”
Obama signed the bill passed by Congress in late April to end controller furloughs initiated by FAA to comply with budget sequestration, but he said the $253 million the legislation directs FAA to transfer from its Airport Improvement Program to pay controllers is money needed for airport projects.
The president said that if Congress is “seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now, or 15 years from now … And so when folks say, well, there was some money in the FAA to deal with these furloughs—well, yeah, the money is this pool of funds that are supposed to try to upgrade our airports so we don’t rank in the bottom of industrialized countries when it comes to our infrastructure.”
He told reporters that vetoing the FAA funding flexibility bill would not lead Congress to come up with a “broader fix” for sequestration. “It just means that there would be pain now [for air passengers], which [Congress] would try to blame on me, as opposed to pain five years from now” at airports where projects may be delayed, Obama said. Congress also passed the bill by such an overwhelming majority that it could have easily overridden an Obama veto.
But the president is clearly not happy with the legislation. “The fact that Congress responded to the short-term problem of flight delays by giving us the option of shifting money that’s designed to repair and improve airports over the long term to fix the short-term problem—well, that’s not a solution,” Obama said. “Essentially what we’ve done is we’ve said in order to avoid delays this summer, we’re going to ensure delays for the next two or three decades.”
Airports Council International-North America said in a statement it is “very disappointed that the Airport Improvement Program was used to pay for this fix, as these funds were paid by passengers to maintain and enhance airport runways and taxiways, not fund FAA operations. Airports agree that passenger delays and inconvenience cannot continue, but raiding capital funding to pay for FAA operations is unprecedented and does not take into account the need to make critical safety, security and capacity improvements.”