Raleigh-Durham International Airport would receive tens of millions of dollars from the state for capital projects under the state Senate’s proposed budget.
Under existing state funding sources, RDU gets $500,000 per year. But under the Senate budget released this week, RDU would receive an additional $21 million in 2017-18 and about $31 million in recurring funds starting in 2018-19.
The additional funding could help pay for a $305 million project to replace the airport’s longest runway, which is needed to continue to accommodate and attract new trans-continental and international flights. The proposed budget also includes additional money for eight other commercial airports in the state, including Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, Wilmington International Airport and Asheville Regional Airport.
“We are grateful that the Senate leadership is taking the needs of our state’s airports so seriously,” said Kristie VanAuken, RDU’s vice president of communications and community affairs. “We are encouraged, but we know that we have not crossed the finish line.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican from Brunswick County and chair of the Senate Rules Committee, filed a bill that would allocate additional funding for RDU and said he intended work to create an ongoing source of money for capital projects for the state’s airports. Those goals are now reflected in the Senate budget. The House has yet to release its proposed budget.
“All airports – general aviation also – are something that we have allowed to go lacking for years,” Rabon said. “It is probably one of, if not the best, economic driver we have in this state.”
Some of the money for airport projects will come from a short-term motor vehicle lease and rental tax, which generates about $65 million per year. That money currently goes into the general fund, but the Senate budget proposes shifting about $10 million per year into the Highway Fund.
Rabon said he would like to see all the revenue from the tax moved to the Highway Fund. He also hoped the legislature would do more in the future, including create a recurring source of funding for general aviation airports as well.
In the next few years, RDU’s 10,000-foot runway will need to be replaced before it reaches the end of its useful life in the next 3 to 5 years. The new runway will be parallel to the existing one on the western side of the airport.
Without the new runway, the airport would be left with only one commercial runway, and at 7,500 feet, it isn’t long enough to accommodate trans-Atlantic or trans-continental flights. A new runway also would be needed if the airport hopes to attract a flight to China.
Airport officials have been clamoring for state help. RDU staff have said for every dollar the airport has paid into the Federal Airport Improvement Program, it has gotten back about 3.7 cents. That’s because the $20 billion needed by U.S. airports each year is significantly more than the funding available through federal programs, according to a report by Airports Council International – North America, an association representing airport owners and operators.
“The federal government simply cannot do it alone,” VanAuken said. “They cannot fund the infrastructure that is necessary at North Carolina’s airports. The state is doing the right thing by investing in all of them.”
Also, under federal rules, RDU must forgo 75 percent of the airport improvement program money it is entitled to because it collects a $4.50 facility charge from every passenger who boards a plane there. Airport officials nationwide are urging Congress to repeal that rule as well as lift the $4.50 cap on passenger facility charges, which haven’t been raised since 2000.
The Senate’s proposed budget also includes money for the state’s other commercial airports in the coming two fiscal years. The amounts are based on the economic output of commercial airports that are medium-sized hubs or smaller, according to the budget. Here’s what the airports would receive each year:
▪ Albert J. Ellis Airport in Onslow County, $864,708.
▪ Asheville Regional Airport, $2,026,331.
▪ Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern, $653,162.
▪ Concord Regional Airport, $586,901.
▪ Fayetteville Regional Airport, $1,139,670.
▪ Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, $7,123,082.
▪ Pitt-Greenville Airport in Greenville, $377,070.
▪ Wilmington International Airport, $5,946,945.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon