August 1, 2007
By Thomas A. Horne
Now that the FAA funding debate has been active for some eight months, AOPA has garnered a huge response from its members. It's been both inspiring and educational for the AOPA staff. Not a day passes without all AOPA staffers' e-mail inboxes logging dozens of member comments. The same certainly can be said for the key personnel centrally involved in AOPA's lobbying efforts. In a very large sense, what we've seen are the results of a modern, multipronged advocacy initiative that takes advantage of all media — print, e-mail, snail mail, the Internet, speeches by AOPA President Phil Boyer to Pilot Town Meetings and other assemblages, and old-fashioned jawboning in political forums both public and private.
Members have offered AOPA a wide range of opinions and observations about the funding issue. Some views are more heated than others, but it's clear that the AOPA membership and the pilot community at large have become heavily politicized by the debate. The following are excerpts from a select number of representative e-mails we've received. They have been edited for clarity, and to conserve space.
Perhaps the most common thread is expressed by Jeffrey Jennings, of Charlotte, North Carolina:
"If the United States ever had fees comparable to Europe, I would give up general aviation."
As this issue of AOPA Pilot goes to press, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee submitted its latest FAA funding bill. The proposal's method for providing ATC modernization funds does not include user fees, but does permit a modest increase in fuel taxes. Avgas taxes would increase from today's 19.3 cents per gallon to 24.1 cents per gallon. Jet fuel tax would go from 21.8 to 30.7 cents per gallon.
The bill would provide more than adequate funds for ATC and airport modernization. Almost $13 billion would go to ATC modernization and other capital improvements; that's more than $1 billion more than the Bush administration proposed. Airports would receive $15.8 billion in improvements — $4 billion more than the administration's proposal.
The bill would also require the FAA to create a system to oversee the staffing of flight service stations and the training of flight service station specialists.
AOPA enthusiastically supports this bill, but this is not the end of the lawmaking process. This latest bill must be reconciled with a Senate version (which does advocate user fees) in the markup stage of legislation.
As always, check the Web site for late-breaking news on this critical issue. — TAH
David Gollings blames Congress and inept government management:
"Over the past 25 years our so-called representatives have been dismantling the government piecemeal. We applauded when President Reagan fired all the union controllers. We looked the other way when the [FAA] administrator's job was handed over to unqualified political hacks. We didn't complain when the hacks 'sold' our flight service system to Lockheed Martin. We stood by when the FAA 'couldn't account for' billions of dollars last year. And now the appropriations bill is written and the only thing between us and user fees are the same so-called representatives that allowed the FAA to get by with Enron accounting. Worst of all, if I understand the funding proposal correctly, the FAA plans to start selling FAA government bonds in 2013 after it has squandered our user-fee money. And guess what? These bonds are to be repaid with additional, increased user fees. No private corporation could remain in business like this. It's time for the administration to stop pretending the FAA is a corporation, and return to the old system, where the administrator was a respected, experienced aviation official."
Chuck Bain sees a disconnect between the FAA funding proposal and the rest of the Bush administration's economic policies:
"The current Bush administration has demonstrated economic leadership through the tax reduction act. The stock market is breaking records, consumer confidence is growing, and jobs are abundant. The concept is simple...taxes always limit the activity on which they are levied. By taxing, you remove the incentive to achieve or consume. The proposed FAA funding bill will actually reduce revenues, not increase them. What I am suggesting is that you use the same philosophy when confronting this proposal that the Bush administration has used to generate record tax revenues...lower fuel taxes, don't raise them. By making fuel more affordable, people will fly more, buy more gas, and pay more fuel taxes, and the FAA will be swimming in money."
Bob Redmond thinks any proposed fee structure should examine current inequities between airline and general aviation operations:
"Lowering taxes and fees to the airlines is one of the most unfair ideas I've ever heard. Especially if it means raising fees to GA. Taxing 'aircraft' is irrelevant. Why? Because airplanes wouldn't need to travel without people or purpose. So who should pay, people or planes? That brings us to price per seat. By the FAA's own admission a Gulfstream pays the system $236 for a trip from New York to Miami. A [Boeing] 757 pays $2,015 for the same trip. That means that the price per seat per mile would be the only way to fairly gauge tax. A Gulfstream carries up to 12 people. So the price per seat mile (955 nm, 12 passengers) is just over 2 cents. Take the same flight on a 757-200 and the cost per seat mile (955 nm, 233 passengers) is just under 1 cent. The passengers on the Gulfstream are paying double already! It is far easier to increase revenue by increasing the costs to the greater numbers. The airlines already have huge advantages in regard to cost savings. I just wonder how many executives have considered a pay cut to help the cause. It's greed, in my opinion. The system is healthy in our country. Cripple GA and you will cripple the whole economy. Good job, AOPA. We wouldn't have a chance without you."
John Hillsman sees declining values as a big problem if fees and higher taxes are imposed:
"If people fly less because of higher costs, the value of the existing fleet of general aviation aircraft will decline. I suspect that the market will be flooded with people trying to sell aircraft — and especially single-engine piston aircraft. I am a schoolteacher and high-school band director, and I fly less than I did four years ago simply because of the increases in fuel costs."
John Kitos wonders if he'll ever fly if the funding proposal is enacted:
"I don't have a pilot's license, but I plan to someday. I could see that not happening if I don't stand to support GA. I talk it up among friends and coworkers to raise awareness. I compare it to them being taxed and restricted in the driving of their own car. My wife and I got back from a 30-day trip through Europe — England, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and France. We saw three private aircraft the whole time. I don't want the United States to become like that. Keep up the good work."
The articles and videos on AOPA Online on European fees and taxes brought a number of other responses. It seems many members are quite familiar with the state of European general aviation. Felah al Nakash, of Krefeld, Germany, wrote to say:
"I would like to encourage all of you at AOPA to continue your strong stand against the new proposed regulations.... In Europe, where, through historical developments and space requirements, the airspace is primarily designed for airline traffic, general aviation is considered as FOD [foreign object damage]."
David Ginsberg, who flies a Socata Trinidad out of the United Kingdom's Blackpool Airport, commented on the "FAA Funding Debate: Euro-Fees Fears" article that ran in the April 2007 issue:
"I have never read a more accurate and well-argued article that illustrates perfectly how we are ripped off here in the U.K. May I have your permission to send the article to lobby the authorities here?"
Stefan Werner comments:
"I am a German native who moved to the United States in 1996. One of the reasons was that even though I had a decent job, there was no way I could have fulfilled my dream of becoming a pilot...not at those prices. I got my private and instrument here in California for less money than you had outlined the private license would have cost in the U.K. or Germany. Since I believe one should always try to give back to the community, I am a member of Angel Flight West, to make the best use I could think of for my piloting skills by providing air transportation to the less fortunate seeking medical treatment or visiting ill family members in general aviation airplanes free of charge. But with the proposed increases in fuel tax and by charging fees, I don't see how I could afford to keep flying as much as I do now. Whatever it takes — we need to prevent this funding proposal from becoming reality. Or the horror story will become real life here."
Karen Schulz, of Hamburg, Germany, writes:
"Flying a small aircraft has always been a dream of mine. A dream I simply can't afford in Germany. For years I was holding a third class FAA medical, but vacation has never been long enough for private pilot training in the United States. This year I finally gave up. Maybe in my next life.... You are so fortunate to live in the United States!"
Ingo Pfotenhauer, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wrote to say:
"Europe has killed general aviation. I would bet that if a similar scheme was adopted in the United States, the general aviation population would drop by 80 percent. It sounds similar to President Jimmy Carter's luxury tax on yachts, which killed the luxury-yacht industry, until the law was repealed. Please let your readers know what they can do to stop this legislation."
Many members write to ask how they can help in the effort to defeat proposals to levy user fees and raise fuel taxes. The best way is to use an AOPA Web site dedicated to the FAA funding debate.
This Web site has many links that help your voice be heard. Want to write your senator or congressman, but don't know who he or she is? Click on the Who Are My Senators? or Who Is My Representative? link on the right side of the Web page. Once you locate your senator or representative, there are additional links that let you e-mail him or her with your message. All you do is fill in the blanks and write your message in the "Please write your message" box, click Submit Comments, and you're finished.
The Web site also lets you sign a petition against user fees and fuel tax hikes. Just click on Petition Against User Fees at the right side of the page.
Speaking of that proposed 70-cents-per-gallon fuel-tax hike on avgas and Jet A, you can use the Web site's Tax Increase Calculator. Plug in your aircraft's fuel burn and the number of hours you fly per year, and watch your annual fuel-tax increase pop up. It can be quite a shock.
There's much more to explore on the Web site. This includes videos of AOPA President Phil Boyer's comments made before Congress and at AOPA Expo 2006. There's also video of a general aviation flight across Europe, complete with user-fee charges racked up along the way, plus interviews with European pilots, who explain how they are affected by user fees.
As we move into the final weeks of the FAA funding proposal's movements through the lawmaking process, check the Web site frequently for the latest news. You'll also be alerted to any letter/e-mail campaigns that AOPA deems necessary. As time passes, the votes become more and more critical, and you can help AOPA lobbyists target the right legislators at the right time. Given our articulate membership, it should be easy for us to rally to the cause.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
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