Aviation Funding: GA takes "high" road
Members of Congress home for the August recess may get an earful from local pilots and local folks who depend upon their community airports and their General Aviation (GA) aircraft for the myriad business, life-saving and recreational flying services they provide.
Recently, Congress has been pummeled by airline lobbyists trying to use the pending FAA reauthorization legislation to shift about $2 billion dollars of airline costs in the form of “user fees” to those “little airplanes,” the GA aircraft that range from Piper Cubs to the bizjets.
One way to overcome poor management is to eliminate competition and create a monopoly. Considering that GA provides transportation to over 170 million passengers each year, the systems of “user fees” that have virtually killed off GA in Europe, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada must have a certain appeal to airline executives.
And, let’s face it, most airlines are poorly managed. They cause enormous congestion and delays at major hubs by scheduling their arrivals and departures for the morning and evening rush hours instead of spreading their flights across the day. The airlines vex their passengers with their hub-and-spoke system which means passengers can rarely fly directly from Point A to Point B without being forced to land at Point C or, sometimes, Points D, E and F.
Each intermediate stop means passengers pay an additional Passenger Facility Charge for airport amenities while enduring either another mind-numbing long wait or a “thrilling” foot race to catch the connecting flight – if it hasn’t left already. But passengers do get to buy airport food (only First Class gets fed anymore), drinks, newspapers, shoe shines and watch airline TV Ads blaming the mess they have created on GA.
The number of strikes and sick-outs by airline employees suggest that something is rotten with management. And it isn’t just in Denmark. So, if you cannot make your case to the Congress that has already given you over $37 billion dollars in taxpayer bailouts since 9/11, lie about the other fellow.
The airlines try to blame their self-inflicted delays on GA when GA traffic makes up only four percent of the traffic at the ten busiest airline hubs. Mainly, because GA pilots want little to do with lumbering airliners when GA pilots can, most often, choose to land right away at one of the over 5,200 public-use airports that are generally closer to where they need to go, anyway.
The 413,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (66-percent of U.S. pilots belong) has chosen to take the “high” road by endorsing H.R. 2881 -- legislation that will provide the funding to modernize our air transportation system without the negative effects of the user fees that have caused only the very wealthy to be able to fly in Europe, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
The beauty of the current system whereby GA already pays a “user fee” in the form of aviation fuel taxes is that federal fuel taxes are collected at the refinery. Only a handful of IRS employees are needed for that. The complex system of “user fees” proposed by the airlines for every weather briefing, for every radio contact, for every interaction with the FAA, would require thousands more IRS employees.
The airlines don’t even want to pay the only tax they pay: 4.3 cents-per-gallon on jet fuel. Yes, airline travel generates 94-percent of the dollars going into the federal aviation trust fund. But passengers pay the ticket tax for using the system. The airlines only collect it.
Fuel usage provides an accurate reflection of how much or how little an aircraft uses the system. Fly more, pay more. Fly less, pay less. To provide for the next generation of the air transportation system, AOPA supports H.R. 2881, even though it increases what GA would pay at the pump by 4.8 cents-per-gallon.
That seems more statesman-like than trying to blame one’s own mismanagement on others.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. An aviator for 38 years, he serves as a regional representative for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
©2007. William Hamilton.