Alaska, home to a bustling general aviation industry, is sending a strong message about its dislike for the FAA's funding proposal. The Alaska House on April 24 unanimously passed a resolution, pointing out the harsh economic impact the FAA's plan would have on the state's economy.
Sponsored by state Rep. Kyle Johansen, the resolution will now go before the Senate. There is concern at the municipality level as well. The city of Cordova, Alaska, has adopted its own resolution against the FAA's funding scheme, thanks to Mayor Tim Joyce, an AOPA member.
"This sends a strong message from an important aviation state and a local community within that state that user fees and a near quadrupling of aviation fuel taxes is a bad idea," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "It comes at a critical time as Congress is drafting its version of the FAA funding bill."
Given Alaska's unique environment, it's easy to see why pilots there are opposed to fuel tax increases, user fees, and airport funding cuts. Alaska has six times as many pilots per capita and 16 times as many aircraft per capita as the rest of the United States. With the lack of roads and extreme conditions, people depend on general aviation for emergencies, mail, and supplies. Some students even get to school by using GA.
"Like general aviation pilots across the country, it is not in the best interest of Alaska to have bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., making decisions with very limited opportunity for congressional oversight," said Cebula, testifying on the resolution on April 12. "Your [congressional] delegation has done an excellent job looking out for the interests of Alaskans."
Speaking of the delegation, U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) recently responded to a letter from a concerned AOPA member. "I do not endorse the proposed plan which was submitted to Congress. We have a lot of work to do in order to determine the best way to move forward with reauthorizing the FAA," Young wrote. "Hopefully, we will get a bill passed through Congress before the end of the year."
Although Young is no longer chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he says he still has a strong voice and will work with the current chairman, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). Oberstar previously said that he plans to give the FAA's proposal a "decent burial."
Meanwhile, down where the tundra tires meet the dirt, AOPA Alaska Regional Representative Tom George also testified in favor of the legislature's resolution. He outlined the real consequences of the FAA's plan.
"In Alaska we are concerned with aviation safety. We already have an accident rate higher than the rest of the nation," George said. He mentioned significant improvements in safety, thanks to the FAA's Capstone program, but he said things could get worse if pilots have to pay directly for services. "If pilots start avoiding services such as access to weather, instrument approaches, and towered airports, we could see a further decline in aviation safety; the very thing we are working hard to improve."
George also mentioned the already exorbitant fuel prices, averaging $4.88 a gallon with a high of $7 a gallon in Galena.
"And the FAA wants to make it 50 cents more?" he asked. "These prices are high enough to limit flying, which has an impact on fueling outfits, mechanics, parts houses, and all the other business that service GA. We don't want to price aviation out of business."
Updated: April 24, 2007, 5:10 p.m. EDT