As the debate over FAA funding rages on, the airlines have begun printing anti-general aviation editorials in their seatback magazines, which reside appropriately next to the airsickness bags. The two in-flight magazines that have run them so far, Northwest's NWA WorldTraveler and United's United Hemispheres, blame general aviation for all their woes, namely air traffic delays.
"If only it were that simple," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "At the top 10 busiest airports in the United States, the FAA's own data for all towered airports show that general aviation makes up less than 4 percent of all aircraft operations."
The airlines' trade organization, the Air Transport Association, has also started running ads on the CNN Airport Network, to spread its propaganda. (They were countered by the Alliance for Aviation Across America.)
A June 5 front-page story in USA Today showed that the real culprit is usually weather, which was to blame for about 40 percent of air traffic delays. The article states other factors were late-arriving aircraft, maintenance and crew problems, and flight coordination at airports, but makes no mention of general aviation as a factor in the delays. The article also said that flight delays are at their worst in 13 years.
Yet the ATC system was created for the airlines. The extensive cost is due to the airlines' hub-and-spoke system. It makes business sense for them to shift the blame and costs onto somebody else.
AOPA agrees with the airlines and FAA that the system needs to be modernized so that a satellite-based system can reduce fuel costs and bolster the economy, among other benefits. In fact, general aviation embraced GPS technology a decade ago. But it's in the financial details where segments of the industry part ways.
The Government Accountability Office as well as the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation have both concluded that there is adequate money under the existing funding scheme to support modernization.
Seatback literature is currently aimed at corporate aviation, claiming that business jets aren't paying their "fair share." "Every ticket you buy helps subsidize corporate aviation," writes Andrea Fischer Newman, Northwest's senior vice president of government affairs.
The truth is that airline passengers and freight users pay a portion of the total costs of operating the ATC system as a whole, similar to buying a postage stamp. No airline or airline trade group has assured travelers that their ticket prices would drop by even a penny if the airlines got the tax breaks they wanted.
The in-flight editorials try to use sheer numbers - present and future - to make their case by comparing corporate jets with airliners. What they don't say is that the airliners fly far more often, exacting a bigger load on the system while imposing a significant cost. Airliners that sit at the gates simply don't make money.
A bill in the Senate would charge turbine aircraft $25 each time they fly in controlled airspace. AOPA remains steadfast against user fees for anyone, knowing how they can trickle down to all segments of aviation as a bad money-sucking system spirals out of control.
"AOPA members are in a unique position. They fly small planes as pilots and pay fuel taxes. They fly on airliners as passengers and pay ticket taxes," Boyer said. "We've always been paying our fair share."
With 412,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation association. Some two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of the association, which is dedicated to protecting the interests of general aviation.
June 6, 2007