President's Position

A more positive path

March 1, 2010

Craig Fuller

On the first of February, the aviation community re-viewed the 2011 federal budget proposal offered by President Barack Obama and quickly learned that something amazing had happened. The $9.6 billion aviation user fee proposal hinted at during the previous year had vaporized.

For most in Washington, the fact that something did not happen is simply not news. For us, silence on this matter was a remarkable conclusion to a challenging debate over how to fund the FAA—and hence, the nation’s aviation system.

Just 12 months earlier, a new and popular president telegraphed the prospective user fee clearly. Throughout 2009, even as the general aviation community was reeling from the economic crisis affecting every aspect of our industry, we seemed at times to be a target for unwarranted criticism, and the threat of a large user fee was real and serious.

But during the following months, AOPA banded with other aviation associations, and together we rallied GA supporters in Congress, bringing attention to the devastating effects such fees could have. At the same time, AOPA’s GA Serves America campaign drew attention to the many critical services that general aviation provides to all Americans, even those who never take to the skies. With the help of Congress and our peers, we made it clear that damaging GA would hurt America. And that message was heard and understood.

Both the House and Senate launched GA caucuses. More than 100 Congressmen wrote to President Obama, telling him they could not and would not support user fees. The president listened.

As the budget was released, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood proudly told a group of stakeholders, “There is no user fee proposal in this budget.” At the same time, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, commended the administration for not sending Congress an aviation user fee it would not support.

This was possible because, in an all-too-often divided Washington, the general aviation community stood together behind initiatives designed to prevent the adoption of an aviation user fee. Our efforts garnered the bipartisan support of many members of Congress, including the chairmen of key committees. Our collective and consistent voices were clearly heard!

So, what happened? Aside from the logic that an aviation user fee is not a very attractive method for funding a nation’s air traffic control system, we had one very powerful and, in my view, persuasive argument—and we made it over and over to anyone who would listen.

We shared the notion that there were two policy paths. One would consume the aviation community in a drawn-out battle over user fees. The other would align the aviation community with those most knowledgeable on Capitol Hill and with the Department of Transportation to advance critically important aviation initiatives. At the end of the day, key decision makers decided to pursue a more positive path with AOPA and others in the aviation community.

Please understand just how important a concept this is. We never said, “If you drop the user fee concept, we will walk away.” We at AOPA and the other aviation organizations said, “We are ready to work together on important initiatives.” Indeed, we pledged to walk down a more positive and constructive path to address air traffic control modernization, support for airports, and safety, among other issues. Now, we must deliver on that commitment and work hand-in-hand with our government partners to create a positive agenda for the future.

Just as important, we want to work together to strengthen the aviation community as we begin to experience economic recovery. I share this because I know that, having been successful in preventing something painful from happening, now is the time we must take full advantage of our momentum. We must use the infrastructure and ideas that made our fight against user fees successful to build on that success and advance important initiatives. It is not only the right thing to do; it is what we promised to do.

The process has already begun. I pledge to keep you, our members, informed. And, when necessary, I may ask for your help to keep general aviation moving forward.

AOPA President Craig Fuller flies a Beechcraft Bonanza A36.

Engage in Aviation

This month, make a commitment to support the decision makers who support GA. 2010 is an election year, with every one of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives—as well as many in the Senate—up for a vote. Through our political action committee, AOPA will be backing candidates who demonstrate their willingness to support GA. You can help by making a contribution today. Visit our political action committee Web site to learn more about our political action committee and how you can help.