What would happen to the country's economy if general aviation (GA) were to stop flying? For transport, for agricultural purposes, for medical evacuation, and other missions essential to the safety and well-being of all U.S. citizens? The question is not just rhetorical as the newly seated 110th Congress decides how and how much to fund the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And how Congress answers the question could have grave consequences for general aviation.
That's why the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) took the unusual step of launching a nationwide television advertising campaign intended to show the general public and their elected leaders what's at stake. The ads began running on The Weather Channel shortly before Christmas, continuing through January 2007, and direct viewers to AOPA's GA Serving America ( www.GAservingAmerica.org) Web site, where they can learn more about the issue. [Editors - The ads may also be viewed from GA Serving America's home page.] To date, more than 20 million viewers have seen the ads on The Weather Channel, while thousands more have seen them on the Web.
"The aviation system has been funded efficiently for nearly 40 years," said Phil Boyer, president of AOPA. "The purpose of the ads on The Weather Channel is to begin to educate the public about the current system and the ongoing debate about changing it. The current system is not broken, so there's no need to fix it."
Excise taxes on GA fuel, airline passenger tickets, and cargo have been deposited into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund for nearly four decades to fund airport improvements, air traffic control modernization, and other essential aviation projects.
The FAA claims that it now has a funding crisis, and it, along with the airlines, has argued that the FAA should be funded through a system of user fees for ATC services and other FAA regulatory and certification requirements, rather than taxes on aviation users. This effectively eliminates Congress's role in allocating the funds for FAA programs and providing management guidance and oversight. AOPA opposes a user fee system and supports the excise tax system as the best way to continue to fund the system.
"Congress, acting as the representatives of the American public, is the de facto 'board of directors' for the National Airspace System," said Boyer. "But under a plan promoted by the airlines, a board made up of system users - and dominated by the airlines - would replace Congress as the overseers of the system. Having these selfsame airlines that are mired in financial straits be responsible for fiscal oversight of the National Airspace System just does not make sense."
If the FAA adopts a user fee pay-for-service funding system, the safety of many GA flights could be negatively impacted as pilots choose whether or not to pay for safety-related services such as weather briefings or air traffic control assistance during bad weather that are paid for out of the aviation trust fund. To the individual general aviation user, those services appear "free," since they're paid for every time a pilot refuels an aircraft.
General aviation includes disaster relief, agricultural flying, weather reporting, business travel, and many other functions that are an integral part of our nation. Developing a fee-based system will hinder general aviation and therefore be detrimental to the services relied upon by all of the nation's citizens.
AOPA stands united with the rest of the general aviation industry in opposing a shift to any funding structure that threatens general aviation's ability to continue to fly, and wants Congress, the public, the airlines, and the FAA to understand that the fight is just beginning.
With nearly 410,000 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 all general aviation.
January 5, 2007