Editor’s note: The Regional Transportation Alliance on Friday issued a report that calls for a variety of new funding and other steps to help meet capital spending needs for improvements and additions at RDU International. Here is the overview as published and a listing of key findings.
RDU Airport is essential to the success and prosperity of the region, and our region’s growth inevitably increases the demands for increased commercial air service.
Fortunately, RDU has developed an excellent “Vision 2040” master plan – a scalable game plan for capital investments at the airport that can serve us well as our region grows.
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However, the growth in passengers – even in a post-pandemic travel environment – will not create sufficient funding for RDU to cover the capital infrastructure needs at the airport over the next 20 years.
In other words, while RDU can keep the lights on, it cannot pay for its growing capital program without identifying new revenue. Simply put, the Vision 2040 master plan will not be able to fund itself.
Primary report findings include:
- RDU’s passenger numbers may return to record-setting levels by 2024Passenger growth will not create sufficient funding for needed future infrastructure at RDU
- Local funding contributions for the airport haven’t changed since 1957
- RDU has identified a $500m revenue shortfall by 2030 – even if $500m in additional debt issued
- By 2040, RDU anticipates an additional $1b capital funding gap – for a total shortfall of $2 billion
Federal and Congressional funding recommendations include:
- Lobby for significant discretionary federal funds for main runway (ideally $150m or more)
- Lobby for authority to raise per-ticket passenger facility charge (PFC) by $1 ($6m /yr.), indexing
State funding recommendations include:
- Applaud state legislature for ongoing, strong bipartisan financial support of NC airports
Local and RDU Airport funding recommendations include:
- Raise parking fees by $6/day ($10m /yr.); implement $2/day airport “access fee” ($10m /yr.)
- Modernize, increase municipal contributions from 4 airport owners to $120k or more per year
- Monetize airport lands – with community input to increase potential revenue controlled by RDU
RTA reconvened an RDU task force in early 2021, with the strategic goal of encouraging the business community and the region to understand and proactively address the funding challenge facing RDU.
The summary of our findings: it will take a multifaceted approach, and it will not be resolved quickly.
The Federal Government may be able to help us – and we will ask them to, particularly concerning the necessary relocation of our primary runway. However, they won’t be able to solve the funding problem.
Our state government continues to assist, at nearly $20 million annually. We are grateful for these recurring state investments – however, RDU’s short- and long-term financial hole is larger than that.
The bottom line is this region will require an “all-of-the-above” strategy to provide sustainable capital funding for RDU, and we will need to focus on resources and investments that we control locally.
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This report speaks to a series of options, that if implemented, could go a long way towards addressing the capital funding gap over the next decade. These options include new or increased user fees as well as modernizing and enhancing the investment in RDU by the four municipal co-owners of the airport.
These won’t completely resolve the issue, but they will likely buy us time to identify some longer-term solutions and create a more sustainable capital investment funding model for RDU.
While the regional business community believes that each of the recommendations in this report are reasonable to consider, our primary focus is not on any particular revenue option. Rather, our goal is to activate an effective regional conversation on the need for finding – and funding – viable solution paths.
The future of RDU is essential to our community’s success. Let’s give that future the focus it deserves.