Photo courtesy of Ken Cedeno.
A key senator says the proposed nearly fourfold increase in general aviation fuel taxes is "completely unacceptable." "I know what is behind it; this attitude that there are so few pilots you can get away with anything," Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) told the Senate Commerce aviation subcommittee on March 8.
The fact that Sen. Inhofe, a passionate GA pilot and AOPA member, would stick up for general aviation is not surprising. What is surprising is where he did it.
Sen. Inhofe is not a member of the Commerce Committee, and in the gentlemanly world of the Senate, one treads lightly on another's turf. For Inhofe to go uninvited into the committee hearing room and plead for GA meant that he felt so strongly about the issue that he was willing to do what it took to make his point.
"The United States has the safest and most efficient air transportation system in the world," said Inhofe. "Our aviation system is second to none and is not broken.
"Congress is being asked to dismantle the time-tested aviation financing system for reasons that are not entirely clear to me," he said. "Our aviation infrastructure is inherently governmental and thus maintaining the historical level of general fund contributions to the system is critical, and congressional oversight is essential."
AOPA President Phil Boyer spoke with Sen. Inhofe as he and his staff were developing his statement. "One of the key points that he made at the hearing was how important it is to take user fees off the table. That way we can have a meaningful debate about the future of FAA funding," Boyer said.
Inhofe knows what he's talking about. An active commercial, instrument-rated pilot with more than 50 years flying experience, he's served on congressional committees that have drafted previous FAA funding legislation. And he used GA extensively as a small businessman and continues to fly himself regularly to meet his constituents and serve his state.
He pointed out that GA contributes more than $100 billion annually to the economy, and that it is one of the few U.S.-based industries making a positive contribution to the country's balance of trade.
"Why we would consider destroying that is beyond my understanding," said Inhofe, "but make no mistake, if this proposal is adopted, there will be a dramatic and immediate negative effect on general aviation."
March 8, 2007