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NFTA executive sits at Trump's table to discuss air travel issues

courtesy Airports Council International North America

Western New York was represented in a meeting Thursday at the White House, as President Donald Trump heard from airport and airline executives about the state of the nation's air travel system.

William Vanecek, director of aviation for the NFTA and chairman of the Airports Council International North America, told WBFO Trump's guests brought issues to the table including air traffic control modernization, how smaller airports might be able to play a role in improved airline competition and infrastructure matters.

"His big issues are how do we make America's airports great again," Vanecek said. "He compares us with the airports that have been developed in Europe and in the Middle East and Asia. He specifically referenced airports like Dubai and Singapore and how our airports have fallen behind the curve."

Airport executives also shared their desire to have a cap lifted on the Passenger Facility Charge, or PFC. It's a surcharge added to airline ticket purchases that raises revenue for airport capital needs. The NFTA, for example, is using proceeds from the PFC to help fund a $65 million expansion and upgrade project this year at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. 

The PFC is $4.50 per ticket and has been since the year 2000. Airports want to be allowed to set their own charge individually. Vanecek says the PFC has not kept up with inflation and has only about fifty percent the purchasing power it did 17 years ago.

"As construction costs rise, project costs rise as well," Vanecek said. "For us to tap into PFC now, which is based on how many travelers we have using our airport, what it does is it elongates the construction period for the projects we try to get done going forward."

Regarding the modernization of air traffic control, Vanecek told WBFO that President Trump believes the pace of it is too slow.

"The airlines are very intent on finishing the modernization because it costs them money when they have delays and rerouting, et cetera, which of course works its way down to airports and those passengers who are delayed " Vanecek said.

When asked about how Trump conducted the meeting, Vanecek described the president as an individual who listened intently and asked focused on-point questions and then, when satisfied with answers, moved on to the next item on the agenda. 

"The president has directed his staff to hold a follow-up meeting to this one, again at the White House," said Vanecek, who added that Trump requested written, more detailed reports and requests. The follow-up meeting is expected to be held in about two to three months.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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