How U.S. airports lag behind the rest of the world

The FAA's air traffic control system is in need of an upgrade

(CNN) – Long lines, missed flights, and frustrated passengers. It’s become the standard at airports nationwide, but the trouble facing America’s airports goes far beyond the security checkpoint.

Kevin Burke, of Airport Council International, said, “People going through airports that are built in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, so the airport structures that they are can’t accommodate.” Decades ago when U.S. airports were built, there were more than 62 million travelers. Today that number has grown, but capacity has not more than 750 million passengers are expected to fly this year.

Presidential candidates on both sides agree the nation’s airports are not ready for the 21st century. Hillary Clinton explained, “I am tired that we don’t have a single airport in our country that is considered in the top 25.” Donald Trump responded with, “You look at some of our airports, its third world.”

Also in need of updating, the FAA’s air traffic control system. Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, said, “Our flight times and what we schedule our times to be are longer than they would be if we had a more efficient air traffic control system.” Airports like New York’s La Guardia and LAX in Los Angeles have ranked as some of the country’s worst in the past because of outdated terminals.

Mary Grady, from Los Angeles World Airports, explained, “These terminals are old. They’re kind of falling apart and we really, really needed to upgrade them, but that’s difficult to do when you’re really constrained for space.”

Funding is finally coming through in some major cities, but at smaller airports like Kansas City, which lacks amenities and space for passengers they’re still looking for the cash. Kevin Burke went on to say, “We have new aircraft for example that are now flying in the United States where gates that don’t accommodate an A-380. Somebody has to pay for that.”

In the U.S. funding comes from airlines, states, local municipalities and the federal government, but it’s a much simpler funding process in other parts of the world. In South Korea, Inchon International consistently ranks as one of the best in the world. It’s heavily funded by the government. There’s entertainment, high end retail, computer stations, showers, spas, an onsite hotel, full stage performances and the terminals are massive.

Congress regulates a tax capped at four dollars and 50 cents on passenger airfare and a nine-dollar tax for round trips. That money goes to airports for construction projects, but the fee hasn’t been raised to account for inflation in 16 years.

Burke concluded with saying, “It’s not a fair fight. Their governments recognize the importance of airports. Our government says it does, but they need to show it by increasing funding for us, and looking at us as an economic engine for local communities.”

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