WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Charlene Reynolds, Assistant Aviation Director at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and Nick Calio, President and CEO of Airlines for America on investment in airport infrastructure and promotion of international travel. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: As we debate infrastructure legislation, we have the opportunity to make investments that revive and enhance our travel and tourism economy, bringing it to where it was pre-pandemic and beyond. In Nevada, our airports are the gateway to everything we have to offer, but before the pandemic, they were nearly at capacity. And across the country, as everyone has been stating, we are moving back up there, but we have a ways to go.
I am the Chairwoman of the newly formed Subcommittee for Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion, and we need to get our infrastructure back up and going so we can get tourism and Trade moving.
Ms. Reynolds, Congress has already provided our nation’s airports with tens of billions of dollars of relief as part of bipartisan legislation I was so glad to support. What other investments do you think Congress can do to make to ensure that our nation’s airports don’t fall behind and, at this point in time, help our airports recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic? What do you need from us?
REYNOLDS: Thank you for the question, Senator. What airports such as Sky Harbor would like to see again is investment in infrastructure, and then for long-term investment, we would like to see an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge.
Currently, what airports in financing, they typically finance their own modernization of terminals. We need a long-term financing structure that does not require the airports to take on extensive debt. And so, raising the cap on the PFC will provide us a long-term funding strain that would allow for us to modernize our buildings here at Sky Harbor Airport Terminal 4. Basically, it takes on 80 percent of all our traffic. It was built in the late ’90s. We do need to modernize that terminal to provide for the efficiencies in our systems and also for passenger convenience.
ROSEN: Thank you, I’d like to move on a little bit to international travel and promotion because of course, we want to open those borders back up. Brand USA, the United States’ Congressionally-chartered destination marketing organization, does vital work promoting the U.S. to international visitors and all of our potential air travelers. For the past seven years, Brand USA has generated nearly $25 billion in direct visitor spending and more than 50,000 jobs each year.
Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Calio, I’d like to hear from you all about the impact that Brand USA has had on air travel and what do you think we can do to boost up Brand USA or make it more robust so we can continue to reap its benefits?
CALIO: First of all, I’d like to note that with my five best friends from high school, every year, for the last thirty years, we’ve gone to Las Vegas to meet up. For international travel, I think the main thing for us is that Brand USA can do whatever it is doing and keep doing it. But, if we don’t open up international markets in rational, methodical, transparent ways, it’s going to be meaningless. So, I would say the early focus here has to be on what we talked about earlier, which is finding a roadmap to recovery that allows people to know that if X, Y, and Z happens that the 212 restrictions will be lifted, or if I want to get a digital health certificate that the United States will allow me to go to one country or another, and give me a red, green, or yellow light. So, from our perspective, those are the most important things that could happen right now.
ROSEN: Ms. Reynolds, how are you feeling about Brand USA, or any suggestions on improving it or what you think we need to do to give it any support that you think we need?
REYNOLDS: Phoenix Sky Harbor is supportive of any initiatives and or layered approaches that will allow international travel to come back, not only to Sky Harbor, but other airports in the USA’s network. From an economic development standpoint, one trip to Phoenix from London has an annual economic impact of $850 million dollars per year, and so we are very supportive of any international travel, and we will welcome the support of Brand USA in making that happen. Thank you.
ROSEN: Thank you so much for being here today.