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Trump proposes sale of Washington Dulles and National airports

US president Donald Trump hopes to divest federal assets under his long-awaited infrastructure plan, including possibly Washington Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

Under the plan, the Trump administration would give government agencies authority to divest certain assets that "would be more appropriately owned by state, local or private entities", the document released today states.

The US Department of Transportation owns Washington Dulles and National airports but leases them to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) under a 50-year lease that expires in 2067.

"The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority recognises the Administration’s interest in optimising the value of federal assets," the operator says. MWAA's creation in 1986, and shifting the airports from direct federal control, "gave the airports access to commercial financial markets, enabling funding for the investments needed to upgrade facilities and services," it adds.

The president's plan does not include details on a potential divestment, such as who would operate the airports and how such a move would impact the federal laws that govern slots and the 2,012km (1,250 miles) perimeter at Washington National.

Trump is likely to face local opposition to privatising either airport. Representative Don Beyer, who represents Arlington County where National airport is located in Congress, called the proposal part of a plan to "sell out the entire country to private corporations" in a tweet.

The federal government provides little financial support to either Dulles or National airports. MWAA's budget for 2018 shows just over $35 million, with more than $33 million earmarked for capital projects, in discretionary grant funding from the US government for both airports.

By comparison, the operator's entire operating budget for the airports is budgeted at $702 million for the year.

Even Project Journey, MWAA's $1 billion capital programme at Washington National, is funded almost entirely by the operator, airlines and passengers through passenger facility charges (PFCs).

American Airlines, which operates a hub at Washington National, and United Airlines, which has a hub at Washington Dulles, decline to comment on the proposal.

Separately, Trump's infrastructure plan includes several ways to expand access to funds for airport capital projects. These include allowing airports to apply for low-interest TIFIA loans, having access to a new $100 billion programme designed to incentivise private concessions, and streamline the documentation process for collecting PFCs.

One change sought by airports, raising the $4.50 per passenger cap on PFCs, is not included in the plan. The move is opposed by airlines.

“The infrastructure proposal put forward by President Trump addresses a number of regulatory burdens long identified by the airport industry as barriers to infrastructure development,” says Kevin Burke, president and chief executive of the airport industry association ACI-NA.

Updated with comment from MWAA

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