LaHood's Speech: How I'd Have Written It

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There was a time in my life as a journalist that the shallow platitudes that the political class spouts almost as an autonomic function went in one ear, through the emptiness in between, and out the other. Now, they tend to bounce around, get hung up and just piss me off.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's comments to the crowd in Wichita this week struck me as off-scale high on the Words Without Meaning meter. Specifically, he said, "I am proud to stand with you, to work with you and to fight with you to make sure that general aviation…continues to flourish. You will be one of the leaders in helping the global economy pick up." Two weeks after Cirrus got snatched up by the Chinese, LaHood said the administration was working hard to meet its goal of doubling exports in five years. I think he was probably thinking of exporting products, not companies, but these days, you can never tell.

It's an insult to the audience to say that general aviation is going to lead anything. The industry is on its butt and holding on with tattered fingernails. If it's ever to thrive again, it will follow a vigorous recovery in the global economy, not the other way around. In any case, in the imaginary world with the pink sky and rivers of milk and honey where I sometimes withdraw, here's how I'd rewrite LaHood's speech:

I am proud to stand with you, to work with you and to fight with you to make sure that general aviation continues to flourish. And those are not just empty words. Here are the specifics.

You have told me that excessive regulation and certification costs are killing your competitiveness. I hear you. Accordingly, the President has ordered a top down and bottom up review of FAA certification procedures to be done not by the government, but an industry task force. It has 90 days to make its recommendations and the President expects to hear from you that there has been a meaningful reduction in regulatory workload. If there is not, my resignation will be on his desk.

As part of that process, I have established a new independent DOT Ombudsmen Office with authority to investigate, address and resolve any and all complaints against the FAA at any level. This office answers not to me, but to the Government Accountability Office. If you'd like to think of it as our version of internal affairs, be my guest.

As an industry, you have demonstrated that airplanes are a vital part of our transportation infrastructure and infrastructure means jobs. Therefore, the President has proposed that the bonus depreciation program be extended and expanded for aircraft and upgrades of all kinds. Further, we will be announcing new tax incentives for research and development work related to advanced air transportation and further incentives for companies to keep manufacturing in the U.S. A strong economy depends on both fair taxation and the ability to move people and goods quickly. We aim to provide both.

Further, during the dark days of 2009, the President reacted unfavorably to auto executives and bankers using business jets as pleasure barges. My friends, we all know there are abuses, but we also know that a properly used business aircraft is a time machine, a tool to grow a business and gain a competitive foothold that's just not possible in any other way. At the DOT, we intend to promote that idea by streamlining regulations related to business aircraft usage and, especially, removing the specter or expensive, overbearing airport security. I am urging the President to come to Wichita himself to say as much. Related to business travel, the Department of Homeland Security has been ordered to shift its security emphasis from scans and pat downs to intelligence and profiling, something it should have been doing from the beginning.

Last, I know that dollar wise, the production of piston aircraft is a small piece of the general aviation pie, but it's a vital one because it encourages new pilot starts. And I am standing in a town whose very existence depends on this industry. I am also informed that EPA regulations threaten the fuel supplies these airplanes rely on. I can assure you the FAA is sensitive to this is moving forward to a solution. I promise you that I will personally breath down their collective necks so that you will see conspicuous progress within 60 days.

That oughta do it, I think. We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

Comments (25)

Also, how 'bout lowering the statute of limitations on lawsuits against GA manufacturers from 18 to 10 years? And include Continental and Lycoming in that too.

Posted by: John Ewald | March 22, 2011 1:00 PM    Report this comment

I'll advise the secretary and amend the speech accordingly.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2011 2:07 PM    Report this comment

How about: "Preventing the ability to file frivolous lawsuits against airports, especially if it was there before you bought your house."

Posted by: John Wrenn | March 23, 2011 7:08 AM    Report this comment

The resume of the President and his entire cabinet are non-existent when it comes to either business or technology. I fear whatever "fix" they might propose.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 23, 2011 7:31 AM    Report this comment

Why is it that private industry that creates jobs and enhances our national interests needs politicians to "fight" for it? Who are we fighting, anyway? Mr. LaHood could have announced that he was going to use the $2.4B that Florida just rejected for a train from Orlando to Tampa to accelerate NextGen or implement the worthy suggestions Mr. Bertolli mentioned above. I'm with Paul on the empty words:"I'm from the government and I'm here to help you...".

Posted by: Nick Frisch | March 23, 2011 7:54 AM    Report this comment

I don't care which side has the yoke. Federal government is not part of the solution... they are the problem.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | March 23, 2011 8:09 AM    Report this comment

Great idea and well said, but it would take spine and two other body parts to actually deliver that speech. I don't think you will ever see that again in Washington. Its all about getting re-elected by making vague promises. The suggestion that people who purchase homes near existing airports (or factories) need to realize that they got a cheap price for a reason is excellent... and will also not be passed along.

Posted by: Bill Straw | March 23, 2011 9:03 AM    Report this comment

To Bill Straw: Those two other body parts... Guts and spleen? Just kidding. It is massively frustrating to hear empty and/or equivocal "comfort speak" at a time when we're all looking for leadership and clear, binding answers on subjects like fuel availability, tort reform, airspace availability, and regulation reform. The more "officialdom" speaks, the more I wonder if even they know what they're planning on doing until the moment they do it.

Posted by: Jonathan Harger | March 23, 2011 10:54 AM    Report this comment

john Wrenn wrote:How about: "Preventing the ability to file frivolous lawsuits against airports, especially if it was there before you bought your house."

you must be from California :) i do not disagree with that one bit. i'd understand if you were there before the airport but almost every case, that's just the opposite.

Posted by: MICHAEL SULLIVAN | March 23, 2011 12:20 PM    Report this comment

Airports were, mostly, originally built away from any existing developments partially becuase they wanted to avoid being close to homes. Same thing with shooting ranges and farms. Then suburban sprawl came in and surrounded them. Even though the airport/shooting range/pig/cattle farm was there, sometimes for decades, before anyone else the busy bodies decide they don't like the noise/smells or object to potential safety issues. That they HAD to have known about before they moved in. Especially with airports.

Each of the 3 houses I've bought (and the 2 of those I also sold) over the last 10 years inlcuded in the disclosures whether or not there was an airport within X miles.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | March 23, 2011 1:40 PM    Report this comment

"Ooh-RAH" Paul--and great comments all! I particularly liked Nick's comment on politicians that "fight" for us--WHY?

I've always said that you rarely find a big-government type in aviation--the FAA is the perfect metaphor for big government: A. A huge bureaucracy B. Hopelessly out of date. C. Wasteful spending of dollars confiscated from the industry. D. Hamstrung with its own regulations, and not nimble or able to adapt. E. Not knowledgeable about the very industry it purports to regulate.

Reagan was right--government is not the SOLUTION, it is the PROBLEM!

Paul's "Top to Bottom" (or better yet, "Bottom up" overhaul is long past due.

Posted by: jim hanson | March 23, 2011 5:17 PM    Report this comment

Ok, fellow flyers, here's your chance: Politicians will be having town hall meetings, back patting meetings, nice word meetings and any other voter contact meeting they can, starting now. Go there and tell them what's important to us. Fuel, TTF access, overbearing regs and regulators, whatever you want to see changed. Blogging is a great thing, but they don't read and act on what we say here. Get out and tell them. Call or write your senators and reps with your concerns. And then vote for the few who actually try to do something useful.

Posted by: Tom Mitchell | March 23, 2011 8:26 PM    Report this comment

Paul, what are you talking about? The GA industry is doing great. At least the 95 percent of the industry (by dollar amount) that makes executive jets for the champagne and caviar set.

Oh sure there has been a bit of a slump here too, mostly due to a bit of bad PR with bigwigs jetting around while asking for government welfare. But watch, things will pick right back up as new billionaires continue to be minted in our free and honest market. And they will all need their own jets, natch...

But piston planes for the unwashed masses? Well, son it's pretty much game over for that. We are now like an old prune just drying up a little more each year. And do you think Mr. FAA or anyone else in Wash gives a rat's patootie? Right. Not as long as it's the billionaires with the jets who get to decide who is "elected."

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | March 23, 2011 8:29 PM    Report this comment

LaHood didn't say "The Bucks Stops Here," did he. In fact from what I see coming out of Washington, the buck never stops.

Posted by: Michael Beck | March 24, 2011 3:17 PM    Report this comment

How 'bout, I will mandate that all DOT employees treat you as customers and recognizes you pay our salaries. I bring my budget inline with yours and I will mandate that all my departments cut their budgets by 20%. I know, I know... back to reality.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | March 24, 2011 6:38 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

When will your recoginize that your straight talk is badly needed in the political sector? You are our Rick Altman. Accept your calling. You wont be happy with a quiet Florida retirement anyway.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | March 25, 2011 9:43 AM    Report this comment

I have to correct myself. I just downloaded the GAMA 2011 databook http://www.gama.aero/files/documents/GAMA_DATABOOK_2011_low.pdf

Pistons now make up just 2.1 percent of GA sales. For about the previous ten years it was nearly double, around 3.7 to 4 percent. So the trend is obvious and the writing is on the wall. Piston airplanes, especially as private family vehicles, are headed for extinction.

Neither the government, the FAA, or even the industry itself appears to have any commitment to personal aviation. If the private pilot community (and the alphabet groups) do not recognize this and wake up and take control of our destiny then there is nothing that anybody from the outside is going to do for us.

Just go look in these discussions on this blog and see how many people are saying prices are just where they ought to be. Bull. Prices of new manufacture piston airplanes are at historical high and this means the eventual end of this segment of aviation.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | March 26, 2011 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Just to crunch a couple of more numbers here from the gama book:

In 1999 there were a total of 1,801 new piston airplanes shipped (1689 singles and 112 twins) for total sales of $512 million, giving an average airplane price of $259,000.

A decade later in 2009 piston sales were almost $100 million less ($415 million), and number of airplanes shipped almost half, at 963. Average price: $459,000. Almost double (actual price increase 78 percent).

In that same decade inflation eroded your dollar by only 28 percent. That 1999 dollar cost only $1.28 in 2009. http://www.westegg.com/inflation/

So are piston airplanes price just about right? But that is not the whole story. Those two tables of numbers on page 15 of that report contain a wealth of info.

continued...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | March 26, 2011 2:18 PM    Report this comment

We see a huge jump in prices (33 percent!) in one single year, from 2007 to 2008.

Average price in 2007 was $335,000, with a total of 2,675 airplanes shipped, including 258 twins, the highest in many years.

The very next year, 2008, the average price jumped by more than $100,000 to $446,000, and with almost 100 less twins (176). If we take the twins out of the equation, the single piston increase might well be over 40 percent.

So what gives here? Inflation increased only 4 lousy percent in that year. Why did airplane prices jump 10 times the rate of inflation?

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | March 26, 2011 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Also worth noting that the big bulge in piston airplanes sales happened in lockstep with the real estate bubble decade. Average house price went from about $175,000 in 1999 to over $300,000 by 2006.

Piston sales peaked in 2006 with with 2,755 airplanes shipped, same year as the housing bubble peak.

Bottom line is that none of this adds up. In 1994 average airplane cost for all types of pistons, single and twin, simple, complex and high performance was $179,000.

Today the average piston airplane costs two and a half times as much, at $450,000. In the same time frame our purchasing power dropped only 43 percent (one 1999 dollar costs $1.43 today). That means that airplane prices should be one half of what they are if inflation is the only difference.

And all along the industry is telling us how they are "incrementally" becoming more efficient?

I know that the industry will answer that these new planes are better equipped and that's what buyers want.

Oh really? Or is it a choice to make Gucci and Prada and target an entirely different demographic?

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | March 26, 2011 3:04 PM    Report this comment

And just to wrap up here, it is VERY interesting to note that amateur-built airplanes in the US alone surpassed the worldwide total of pistons shipped by the industry. There were 941 homebuilts added to the FAA registry in 2010, compared to 889 pistons (including multis) shipped worldwide.

Now I know a lot of people that have built or are building airplanes and a not very many of these planes have fancy equipment. Some do but many do not.

I also know that a lot of these folks would rather buy a factory built airplane if that was a reasonable option. So I have to continue to shake my head at where this industry is going, and take with a large grain of salt the so-called explanations and rationalizations.

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