The Des Moines International Airport welcomed more passengers through its terminal in 2019 than ever before, setting a new passenger record for the eighth year in a row, and with even more nonstop flights to popular destinations scheduled in 2020, it will be another record-breaking year for passenger traffic. 

While we celebrate this growth, the influx of passengers creates operational challenges due to our dated infrastructure. The airport has fortunately been able to stretch its resources to ensure an efficient and safe travel experience, but a new terminal is critical to the future of Iowa’s connection to the rest of the country and to the world. 

The Des Moines International Airport was built in 1948, and while there have been several additions and improvements made to the facility, we are exceeding acceptable levels for the number of passengers we are serving. Passengers may notice modernized restaurants and an ease in navigating the website and parking facilities, but what we don’t see is the glacier under the water. For example, passengers won’t see the impact of gate constraints, but without additional gate space we begin to limit the airlines’ ability to utilize larger aircraft or add additional aircraft that could serve new destinations.   

Time is running out for the airport to be able to adequately accommodate this rapid traffic growth. Our infrastructure challenges are critical not only for our airport, but the success of the region and the state.
Many may underestimate the significant economic impact our airport has on our region. A 2014 economic impact study showed the airport creates 7,156 jobs with a $644 million economic output. Iowa airports as a whole support an estimated 20,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in total economic output. Better airports mean more travelers to our state and more people wanting to do business in Iowa. We should embrace the airport as an economic driver and treat it accordingly.

In 2017, the Des Moines Airport Authority began new terminal programming to establish estimated costs for building a new terminal facility, including all enabling projects. At that time, the plan called for a $500 million investment, which uncovered a $200 million shortfall in funding.  

Major infrastructure projects require resources, but the good news is that there’s a solution that won’t cost Iowa taxpayers a penny. Commercial airports rely on a funding mechanism known as the passenger facility charge (PFC) to fund infrastructure improvements. The PFC is a user fee paid only by those travelers using the airport, not the general taxpayer. However, the PFC has not been updated in nearly 20 years. In that time, inflation has significantly diminished the PFC’s purchasing power. 

Modernizing the outdated federal cap is critical for airports to continue funding their local infrastructure projects. Congress needs to act now. An increase of $4 would have a sizable impact on our airport’s ability to fund a new terminal. These infrastructure projects would create jobs, drive economic growth to the region, provide opportunities for expanded air service and create a more pleasant travel experience for those utilizing our airport.

We have spoken with our congressional delegates. They are aware of the critical need and the option of updating the passenger facility charge. Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is responsible for legislative decisions regarding the PFC. We ask that Rep. Finkenauer take advantage of her influential committee role and push to upgrade Iowa airports’ infrastructure by raising the PFC with support from Iowa’s full delegation.  

Modernizing the PFC will enable our airport to fund the new terminal, ensuring continued success and benefiting local businesses and travelers alike. The Des Moines International Airport needs our elected officials’ help, and now is the time to act.