US airlines and airports have begun a lobbying campaign to persuade the new Obama Administration that they should be included in the economic stimulus package that is set to be unveiled in January.

But carriers are being very careful not to seek or even hint at a bailout or a request for any kind of direct payment and instead are focusing on a common industry goal: the infrastructure.

American Airlines chief executive Gerard Arpey stresses as much, saying "We have let the infrastructure in aviation deteriorate, both on the ground and in terms of air traffic control investment." An aide to Arpey insists the carrier means only commonly shared areas rather than any aid directly to the carriers.

Air Transport Association chief executive Jim May has written to the congressional leadership of both parties seeking "at least $1 billion for the Airport Improvement Program or AIP" and another $3 billion for "advanced air traffic control equipment to reduce emissions and delays". This request, joined by other major aviation lobbies, stresses "immediate economic relief". Industry lobbyists have readied "specific language that will be circulated", says one industry source.

This fits neatly with the Obama Administration's stated plan of crafting a stimulus package that would spend $500 billion to $700 billion on "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects. As the stimulus package advances, and as more and more groups join the clamour, however, the total is headed for a trillion dollars. It may not be difficult for airlines and airports to battle with catfish farmers for stimulus funding, and Obama has stressed projects that will employ the largest number of people will be a priority.

Here, the airports may have an edge. Airports Council International-North America President Greg Principato cites such deferred projects as a $2.5 million airport access road in Asheville, NC or a postponed passenger terminal expansion at the Portland, Maine, International Jetport - all put off because of the credit crunch, economic uncertainty and the lack of long-term airport improvement grants.

Principato says at least $600 million in ready-to-go projects are languishing because congressional gridlock stalled a FAA package containing the AIP. Principato calls airport infrastructure projects "the stimulus gift that keeps on giving".

Obama is set to detail a major economic stimulus package in January

Source: Airline Business