Apr. 15, 2004 - AOPA on Thursday defended general aviation against a USA Today editorial that claims airline passengers "subsidize" general aviation. In an opposing view piece published alongside the paper's editorial, AOPA President Phil Boyer explained to USA Today readers that the current system is a single structure, designed for the airlines.
"Our elected representatives in Congress wisely created a national air transportation system," Boyer wrote. And just as trucks - which place a greater strain on the national highway system - pay higher taxes and fees than family cars, the airlines must carry a greater portion of the financial burden for the nation's air traffic control system.
The USA Today editorial was prompted by and uses much of the same rhetoric as an editorial that Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson wrote for his airline's in-flight magazine.
Virtually all of the problems with the air traffic control system cited in the USA Today editorial are problems of the airlines' own making. The delays that the FAA and the airlines are already forecasting for this summer are largely due to the hub-and-spoke system that the major airlines rely on. The hub-and-spoke system creates unrealistic arrival and departure schedules at the major hub airports. Summertime storms only compound the problem.
The USA Today editorial claims incorrectly that most GA flights use air traffic control separation services. In fact, the vast majority of GA flights are conducted under visual flight rules, requiring only minimal contact with controllers and placing almost no direct burden on the system.
"The air traffic control system is designed to serve the airlines," wrote Boyer in USA Today. "Most small planes use few, if any, of these services.
"The airlines pay a modest federal fuel tax of four cents a gallon. Conversely, general aviation flights fund their use of the system through a fuel tax five times what the airlines pay."