National AP story paints dim view of GA

April 16, 2007

National AP story paints dim view of GA
Further reporting on local level is closer to the truth

AOPA members set the press straight

In the wake of The Associated Press's coverage of the FAA funding debate, AOPA members have been asking: What can I do?

If your local newspaper printed a story that painted general aviation in a bad light, send a letter to the editor and let them know how you feel. Many AOPA members have done so. As we've seen already, more details add clarity to the complex issue and can make for better stories in the future.

"Maybe you are unaware that Fort Worth is surrounded by these small airports, and that far from being the playground of the 'globe-trotting executives' who are 'making out like bandits,' these airfields are used by average working stiffs like me," Dave Morris told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'm 51 years old, married, and have four dogs, student loans for my child, car loans, and a mortgage like everyone else. I'd like to show you a different side of the general aviation that is being maligned in this article.

"Last year when my 76-year-old father in Albuquerque needed to have carpal tunnel surgery and shoulder bypass surgery, it was only possible because I could fly myself and my brother out there in alternating shifts every week to take care of him. The bill from the airlines would have been astronomical," he continued. [ Read Morris' letter.]

"General aviation is loosely described as everything other than military or scheduled airlines. Yes, that is small planes and business jets. It is also traffic helicopters, sightseeing, fire fighting, and air ambulance operations. General aviation is lots of things and it contributes to what infrastructure it uses," wrote Tom Corcoran in a letter to The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. [ Read Corcoran's letter.]

As an aircraft owner, Corcoran also pointed out that, in addition to federal fuel taxes, he pays annual state fees.

"...The Reason Foundation is a special interest think tank that runs a Web site called 'Privatization.org.' It promotes privatizing everything from the FAA to Ohio's own government marketing and the Ohio Turnpike system," said Michael Pryce, president of the Portage County (Ohio) Regional Airport Authority. [ Read Pryce's letter.]

For some good points to consider as you draft your letters, see the excerpts about what others have said from around the country. See also GA quick facts. For complete background information, see our FAA Funding Debate pages and try out the tax increase calculator.

What happens when you paint with broad strokes? You miss quite a few spots. Case in point. The Associated Press recently sent a national story across the wires about the FAA funding debate. It contained some oversimplifications and inaccuracies, which put general aviation in a bad light.

The good news is that at the local level, thanks to further research conducted by AP's own reporters, a much brighter and truer picture emerged. GA is important for everything from disaster relief to economic development.

"It's amazing what facts will do for a story," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, a former ABC executive. "When you put more on the table, the flaws in this radical FAA funding scheme become readily apparent. We encourage our members to write their local media and let them know how you feel."

Basically, the national story said that small airports, are getting billions of dollars from taxes paid by airline passengers, and using the funds with little oversight "at the expense of an increasingly beleaguered air transportation system." The article also quoted longtime air traffic control privatization advocate Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation supporting this position.

Since the story first appeared in Internet news outlets such as Yahoo! News and later in many daily newspapers, AOPA has received hundreds of outraged phone calls and e-mails from our members. The FAA's funding proposal would raise fuel taxes, charge user fees, and slash airport funding. Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs, had spent 45 minutes on the phone with the reporter who put together the national story emphasizing the need for a national air transportation system - not simply a few airline airports. But little of what Cebula said wound up in the final draft.

AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) have been working closely together to defeat the FAA's proposal. Because the national AP story targeted business aviation, NBAA President Ed Bolen fired off a letter to the media.

About a week ago, AP headquarters in New York sent out an advisory to its bureaus, asking reporters to look into the issue on the local level. What they found, for the most part, is that airport funding is desperately needed, fuel tax increases would cripple GA and hurt local economies, and that GA serves a vital purpose. Those "localized" stories have been appearing in news outlets throughout the country.

Some excerpts:

South Dakota. Shifting costs to the GA community would be a big blow to sparsely populated states, said South Dakota Sen. John Thune. He went so far as to say that the funding proposal is "dead on arrival." Thune also added that congestion was created by the legacy airlines' hub-and-spoke system, and the costs associated with it should be borne by the airlines. Meanwhile, Bruce Lindholm, program manager of the South Dakota Department of Transportation's Office of Aeronautics, said airports are essential for air ambulance service and aerial fire fighting. Companies won't look at communities that don't have airports, he added.

Louisiana. Yvonne Chenevert, manager of the False River Regional Airport at New Roads, said that GA plays a "critical role" in a state that has one of the worst highway systems. Few, if any, commercial flights can easily link its commercial aviation cities. She told the AP that radically changing the airport funding system would throw away 30 years of policy that proves beneficial to the public.

Mississippi. Bill Cotter, airport manager at Stennis International in coastal Hancock County, said that the airport was instrumental during the response to Hurricane Katrina. They were able to get supplies into the Gulfport-Biloxi and New Orleans areas more quickly than the closer and heavily damaged airports could. Disasters could also happen in other big cities like Atlanta where small airports would play a big role.

Indiana. Small airports are about more than executives and the Piper Cub pilots who fly out of them, said Andrea Montgomery, who owns Montgomery Aviation and operates Indianapolis Executive Airport. According to a study by the Aviation Association of Indiana, the airport made a $44 million economic impact on its community in 2005. She is worried about what a 70-cent gas tax hike would do to airports in the most remote areas. FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro was quoted as saying that if smaller airports can succeed and grow, they attract commercial airlines. That's important, he said, in a place like Chicago.

Washington. A version of the story that ran in the Washington state area, the historic home of Boeing, pointed out how small airports provide a base for search-and-rescue operations and that flight schools provide a feeder system for future airline pilots.

New York. A little airport built by Joe Costa after World War II is still going strong. Corning-Painted Post Airport has received $5.8 million in government grants and is due to get another $3.2 million by 2010. Rita McCarthy, manager of the Town of Erwin, figures it makes sense because you get the money back in nine years. After that, she said it's "gravy."

Ohio. Some use GA for the daily commute. Flying is the only way kindergarten teacher Jennifer Troiano can get to work on Lake Erie's South Bass Island when ferry boats stop operating in the winter.

Updated: April 23, 2007, 10:12 a.m. EDT

GA quick facts
GA serving America
  • General aviation supports 1.3 million jobs and more than $102 billion of total economic activity in the United States annually. As a result, the jobs supporting GA are found all across America.
  • America is blessed with more than 20,000 airports and heliports. The airlines only serve 540 of these airports, or less than 3 percent. Imagine how inadequate your car or truck would be if you could only drive on 3 percent of America's roads or highways.
  • Each year, 166 million passengers, including many from your community, fly on the small airplanes of general aviation. That makes the 211,000 airplanes of GA the nation's largest "airline." That's more passengers than American Airlines, United Air Lines, and Northwest Airlines combined.
  • By using small aircraft and small local airports, tens of thousands of cancer patients, burn victims, and sick or injured children have been able to fly for free to world-class medical centers in major cities, even when these patients live hundreds of miles away in rural communities.
  • Your local weather forecast comes straight from the forecasting system that was created to serve America's pilots. Every time you look at a weather map on TV, the temperatures, cloud cover, precipitation, and winds are being reported to you from weather stations located at thousands of airports across America. So, when you see the temperature on a weather map, think about the local airport that's at that location.

Source: GA Serving America Web site.