With nearly a century’s worth of history behind it, the Portland International Jetport has grown from modest beginnings to a hub that drives tourism and commerce across Maine. As Portland has grown, our airport has grown along with it. What started as a landing field for a single biplane has evolved into a full-service international facility that handles 86 daily scheduled commercial flights.

In 2018, the Jetport hosted more than two million travelers, the largest number ever recorded at Southern Maine’s primary airport. That figure is remarkable, but not surprising, considering the steady growth of a Maine tourism industry that attracts more than 36 million people to our state each year.

However, Maine is more than tourism, and airports play a critical role in diversifying our state economy. Mid-size airports are critical drivers of economic development for the regions they serve, and the Jetport is no exception. As Maine’s largest city, Portland is well-positioned to attract new businesses, new jobs and new development. The Jetport is an essential resource for that future economic growth.

To that end, in 2016, the Jetport proposed a 20-year, $312 million capital improvement plan as part of a sustainable airport master planning process to accommodate the expected 40 percent increase in passenger traffic over this timeframe. Updates include additional gates, more safety features, an upgraded baggage claim area, new parking surfaces, and improved runways and taxiways. These enhancements will attract new flights and more competition, lowering fares and helping us compete with airports in Boston and Manchester.

The Portland City Council approved the plan, and in December 2018 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accepted an environmental study that helps clear the way for construction and renovations to move forward. But there’s a problem: paying for these upgrades. Infrastructure projects at the Jetport, like those at airports across the country, are funded in part by the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), a nominal fee that is paid by air travelers who fly in and out of our airports.

This little-known tool helps pay for much-needed airport infrastructure improvements without spending a dime of taxpayer money. Unfortunately, while the PFC could pay for a significant portion of renovations at the Jetport, the small fee is capped by Congress and has not been raised in nearly two decades. In the years since, inflation alone has blunted the buying power of the PFC.

Here in Maine, this cap on the PFC presents a particular challenge to the Jetport and could significantly stall our planned upgrade. Currently, all PFC funds collected by the Jetport are spent to retire bonds that funded previous terminal development projects.  So unless the PFC is increased we cannot fund future projects. We need Congress to modernize the PFC to move forward with infrastructure updates at the Jetport, as well as other airports like ours. That way, we can capture a greater share of those growing tourist and business dollars to invest right here in Maine.

Efforts to raise the PFC cap in the past have been met with opposition, and some members of Congress argue that it should be left alone. Those objections fail to take into account the importance of a facility that generates over a $1 billion in annual economic impact along with more than 8,200 jobs in the region. Completion of the Jetport’s sustainable master plan capital improvements is expected to create an additional 3,200 jobs and inject $400 million into the local economy. At a time when government budgets are already stretched thin, a modernized PFC will help to make necessary upgrades without committing additional public dollars.

Few Mainers spend as much time in airports as members of our Congressional delegation, who travel between Maine and Washington, D.C. nearly every week. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, along with Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, have the opportunity to lead the way on modernizing the how we fund airport improvement projects. We are eager to work with them to move the ball forward on building a Jetport that can both sustain and drive future growth and development throughout Maine.

The Jetport has been Maine’s largest airport for decades.  It plays a critically important role in supporting and driving tourism, business, and development throughout the region. We plan to continue that tradition and grow along with our state as it continues to attract new jobs and new commerce. Modernizing the PFC is important not just for the Jetport, but for the entire Maine economy.

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