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User Fees: More Blather

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In parallel with the political campaign season comes aviation's annual rite of spring: the battle over user fees. No sooner than did the Obama administration's proposed budget come off the press than my inbox filled with a half dozen press releases from the alphabets decrying users fees. By now, I think they can just change the date and leave the rest of the prose intact from last year's release. Welcome to the center of the universe of your own special interest group.

The Obama administration is proposing a $100 per flight fee for aircraft that operate on flight plans in controlled airspace, with an exemption for piston aircraft. This proposed fee is in keeping with the administration's fairness in taxation and, by another name, it's just a tax-the-rich ploy aimed at operators of business jets. Everyone knows it's more political window dressing than good public policy. It might play well in the hustings with the freckled-necked masses who saw their 401Ks tanked by the financial meltdown, remembering as they do how many banks operate bizjets.

Setting aside the politics, are user fees ever justified? Why do we squeal when they're broached? The citizenry shells out for all kinds of user fees, for toll roads and bridges, for entrance to state and national parks, for license plate fees, for corporate filing. The list is long if not endless. The argument that aviation is unique because fuel taxes fund the system is bogus. Road fuel taxes fund roads, too. So this isn't a matter of whether there should be a bar at all, but where to put it. You can argue that user fees are discriminatory and depressive, but so is paying $12 to cross the George Washington Bridge.

For me, the principle at stake on this particular user fee is creeping government intrusion but, more important, just flat out inefficiency in how government services are delivered, especially by the FAA. Who can make a convincing argument that the FAA spends the money it already gets wisely and that more revenue is justified? No show of hands there, I guess. If I had confidence that the agency spent its money prudently, I might be less knee-jerk myself on user fees. (See this week's story story on FAA performance on the next big boondoggle that has a 50-50 chance of running off the rails: NextGen.)

Having said all this, I'll concede that it can be trying to be a member in good standing of the aviation special interest group because the standard refrain of any special interest group is…don't cut our funding, cut someone else's because we are…special. Exhibit A is the Air Line Pilot's Association opposing the proposed cuts of $36 million from the air marshal program and another $13 million from the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. Both are worthy programs, I'm sure. But the reason these things became so inflated by government dollars in the first place is that we allow ourselves to succumb to the perpetual grip of 9/11 fear. Good people have used and continue to use this fear to maintain the budget momentum that sustains their little fiefdoms, which are necessarily more important than the other guys' fiefdoms.

There are also proposed cuts in airport capital programs which we in GA are likely to argue shouldn't be touched. But I question how necessary and cost effective some of these improvements really are. In GA, we tend to never see an airport project we don't like and one that isn't for the greater good of aviation. It seems as though that AIP money is there for the asking.

For Exhibit B, I'd submit our neighboring airport, Charlotte County, which has proven unusually adept in navigating the government grant business. Several readers of this blog have pointed out that this airport, best described as semi-sleepy, now has a 12-story control tower worthy of a busy metro airport. It's the highest point in the county and probably one of the highest in Florida. State and local funds went into it, but the feds are paying the contract to run it. The airport also got a couple of million bucks for ramp improvements in hopes of attracting an airline or two in an overserved market where Sarasota and Fort Myers are struggling to stay competitive.

I'm of two minds about this. It's a good example of government investment in basic aviation infrastructure that in fact spurs growth. At Charlotte County, there are already short-term gains, despite the critics. Traffic and enplanements are up and the local government claims measureable economic benefits. All good.

But the airlines serving Charlotte County—Allegiant and Direct Air—are the sort of carriers that tend to come and go like the weather, jumping from one market to the next looking for a way to make profits on cheap seats. (Direct Air, for instance, used to be in St. Pete, but pulled out to go elsewhere.) Some cities just want the service so badly, they're willing to spend anything to have someone come in and provide it. But any airline flying seats around for $59 is automatically suspect in my book.

In normal times, I'm all for this sort local/federal government spending on infrastructure. It's smart business and smart government. Build it and they will come writ large. But these aren't normal times. As a nation, we are spending far more than we take in, the Congress won't raise taxes nor will it nor the administration nor any of a million special interests, support meaningful budget cuts. The Senate hasn't passed a budget in nearly three years. At some point, this irrational idiocy is going to have to end, probably from the grassroots up, not the other way around. (I'm sure you've heard something like this: "Well, it's just $2 million. If we don't get it, someone else will.)

Call me crazy, but for my piece of the pie, I'd slash federal spending by a fixed percentage across the board. Everyone and everything takes a hit. Pick a number: 2 percent this year, 5 percent next year. Rinse, repeat. If that means I won't be landing on an improved runway for five years, so be it. If any of us think we're going to solve our larger fiscal problems without giving up something, we're suffering a kind of collective dementia that's normal for Greece but in the U.S., exceptional, even for special interests.

In tomorrow's blog, I'll discuss one aspect of this in our own little corner of the universe: How the FAA's Aeronav division may be missing an opportunity to actually save us and the government some money.

Comments (58)

Your comparison of user fees to turnpike tolls doesn't cut it for us Massachusetts pilots. Tolls collected on the Mass Pike go to pay for the 14.3 billion dollar boondoggle known as The Big Dig. The Pike itself is in a constant state of disrepair. The Pike "users" get no direct benefit from the coins tossed into the basket every day. In the meantime, the travel time through Boston has not been reduced by even a minute. Money down the drain. Welfare for the construction trades.

Every once in a while the topic of increasing the fuel tax on auto fuel raises it's ugly head here and the argument against is the same. If the money were to go to maintain roads and bridges, most would agree to the increase, because the infrastructure in this state is abysmal. But it doesn't. The money goes into the "General Fund" and is spent as the law makers see fit; that is to get their relatives on the state payroll in some patronage job at the Turnpike Authority or MassPort.

One could make the argument that if you never drive on a highway you shouldn't pay fuel taxes because local excise taxes on you vehicles covers the roads you use. It's not that way because it's not true. Just because you don't use a highway, the trucks that deliver goods to your local grocery store do and therefore you benefit from a working highway system.

Aviation benefits everyone, not just GA pilots.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | February 26, 2012 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Before the gov't slaps a fee for service (Fee my asterisk, it's a class tax) on GA, shouldn't they at least give us an idea of the actual cost to the government of that service? Will Obama have to pay $100 every time he or the First Lady rides in government planes.

And back to Economics 101, do companies actually pay tax or do they simply pass it on to the consumer as they have to with every other cost, tax, or fee? After all, if they don't get the money from the customer they can't pay the tax.

Posted by: Richard Montague | February 26, 2012 12:39 PM    Report this comment

What have user fees done to GA in Europe? That alone should stop the madness of bringing the same thing to the USA.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 26, 2012 8:20 PM    Report this comment

Does this mean the market for 421-type piston twins will recover? No user fees?

Posted by: ROBERT ZIEGLER | February 27, 2012 6:14 AM    Report this comment

Freckle necked masses? Keep writing, your unusually clear work entertains, challenges, occasionally irritates but always informs us.

I concur with your position, reduce the budget by a fixed percentage. Rinse, repeat.

Posted by: William Ross | February 27, 2012 6:21 AM    Report this comment

I continue to maintain that a public good ought to be financed through general revenues. I am assuming aviation safety is a public good. Should someone make a countervailing argument that aviation safety is a private good, a.k.a. a special interest, user fees are equitable. However, if that be the case I am going to argue for privaitization of the service.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | February 27, 2012 7:16 AM    Report this comment

I don't normally post in comments, but I think this is worth it. An older link and yes, yes I know it's the Times but this is good. It's the federal budget circa 2010 given in very rough proportions. The proportions have not changed significantly although the amounts have. This is a game you can use to close the budget deficit by 2015 and 2030, respectively. Proposals for funding cuts and tax hikes are below and represent common proposals by their respective political advocates. You can be as conservative or as liberal as you want to be.

The pilots who read Avweb tend to be better informed than many, yet when I suggest this or other links to the structure of the federal budget, there are inevitable surprises for most. It's a curious thing, but some people assume that discretionary cuts (cuts to non-mandated functions) can do the trick. They can't do it unless that whole segment is axed, something that works for a true-blue libertarian, but I kind of like being able to hike around the Grand Canyon, have NASA support research, get good flood solutions from the Army Corps, and have safe nuclear processes. But if you're really, honestly in favor of dropping these kinds of things, I won't begrudge your opinion. I just want people to be better informed about the scope of the deficit and the budget before giving opinions about it.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_United_States_federal_budget

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 27, 2012 8:17 AM    Report this comment

Whoops, forgot that links are probably removed.

Do a search for "NYT budget puzzle" and click the top link.

Also do a search for "wiki 2012 United States federal budget" to see some of the essentials reasonably laid out.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 27, 2012 8:19 AM    Report this comment

And yes, I agree with the thrust of Paul's comments and have long been uncomfortable talking about special interests without considering my own (AOPA).

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 27, 2012 8:29 AM    Report this comment

I predict a compromise a few years from now:

"Sure, charge all of GA user fees, but give us total ADS-B In."

Perhaps that is where this is going...

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | February 27, 2012 8:34 AM    Report this comment

"our neighboring airport, Charlotte County...now has a 12-story control tower...the feds are paying the contract to run it."

KPGD has an operational control tower? Since when?

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | February 27, 2012 8:36 AM    Report this comment

Here's the link to the New York Times budget puzzle:

www.snipurl.com/22dobry

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 27, 2012 8:39 AM    Report this comment

"KPGD has an operational control tower? Since when?"

About two weeks ago. Hey, do me a favor, will you? Please put your name on these posts.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 27, 2012 8:40 AM    Report this comment

All I can say is right on Paul!

Posted by: Unknown | February 27, 2012 9:37 AM    Report this comment

Paul, we have aviation user fees in the US now. They are in fuel taxes and airport landing fees. The best argument against per-flight charges is that it will discourage use of the ATC system and that setting up a bureaucracy to charge and collect additional user fees will cost quite a bit of money.

The other question is who benefits from ATC services? Don't forget to include the people on the ground who are not hit by falling planes that are not crashing into each other.

Posted by: Jon Rudolf | February 27, 2012 9:45 AM    Report this comment

And speaking of landing fees, there's another example of a waste of money by government. White Plains NY (KHPN) charges $3.05 landing fee for piston singles (NOT waived for Angel Flights like almost every other airport). The airport is run by Westchester County and try as I might through e-mails exchanges, I could not get the county commissioner to see the problem with using county union employees to track flights and send out bills that netted the county $3.05. If they dropped piston singles from the fee structure, they'd probably make money. Imagine the bureaucracy that would be put into place to collect user fees country-wide.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | February 27, 2012 10:30 AM    Report this comment

I am opposed to user fees, but common sense budget cuts make lots of sense to me. For example, Phil Boyer was pretty much thrown under the bus for supporting privatized flight service. Today, I'm more than happy with the new Lockheed Martin flight service, and to be brutally honest, technology is rapidly making the flight service station obsolete. Additionally, I'm one of those affected by the FAA's decision to provide approach control to the Dayton area remotely from Columbus - no issues whatsoever in the service. The decision to close a number of contract towers also makes sense to me. We have a few Class D airports in our vicinity that will likely be on the chopping block, but to be honest, I really don't think it will affect safety at all. Their operations levels today would never have qualified to establish a control tower, the only reason they have one is that it's been there for years. Our aviation system is full of similar areas to save money.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 27, 2012 10:33 AM    Report this comment

User fees for flight-planned trips could be rationalized. However, it's gotten to the point where flying anywhere takes you through controlled airspace, which (as it does now in Canada) will eventually be the trigger for the user fees. Using roads (government infrastructure) is qualitatively different than just using the air, which is NOT infrastructure per se, but environment which has become controlled airspace. I'd like to see a similar idea for highways--you can pay to take advantage of the state police and speed limits and stoplights, or you can not pay and have no services and ignore the signs. Wouldn't work, of course, which is why private aviation is screwed in the long run.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | February 27, 2012 11:37 AM    Report this comment

Obama's budget is just a proposal and if the Senate's prior record on passing budgets is any guide, Obama's budget proposals, including GA user fees, are dead. If anything should scare the GA community, it is how little the administration knows about aviation. (Or anything else for that matter.)

Posted by: George Dyer | February 27, 2012 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Paul, You have it just as wrong as Obama. Yes, it will be inefficient, and it would eventually spread to all of aviation. But the real issue is safety not fairness or anything else. It would eventually be applied to all use of the system. That would mean drastically less filing and more scud running. Drastically less flight following. This would result in drastically increased search & rescue times, more mid-airs, more VFR into IMC fatalities, less flying and proficiency. Even more TFR violations. All bad but SAFETY IS THE ISSUE.

Posted by: Dan Swanson | February 27, 2012 1:28 PM    Report this comment

Ah yes, the safety argument. I'm familiar. It's a variation of that used by the TSA and its related security interests to justify billions to keep us from being overrun by terrorists.

You may be correct, but I remain unconvinced that it's a principle argument against user fees. Perhaps one of several. The test case would be see if such a pattern exists in Europe, where airspace fees are common.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 27, 2012 2:10 PM    Report this comment

Paul, You and AVWEB are in a position to help emphasize how user fees would definately be a negative on safety. Your column is the blather when it brings up irrelivant comparisons like a toll on a bridge or a national park. There is no possible way those can affect safety. User fees would definately affect safety and you have a chance to educate the people who know nothing about aviation or what ATC is or does. Government intrusion and inefficiency are a fact of life and as annoying and expensive as they are have no place in this conversation. Europe is not a valid comparison because aviation has never been common or practical there. To many borders and small countrys to make cross country flights practical in light planes. Aviation (large and small) has always been much more common here partly because of the size of the country and partly because of our economic system. Think before you write, Paul. You are in a position to help aviation and aviation safety and to educate those who need it.

Posted by: Dan Swanson | February 27, 2012 3:00 PM    Report this comment

I'm sorry Dan, but you can't claim that Europe isn't valid on those grounds. What you're saying is that GA is less used overall in Europe, not that the GA in existence is or is not comparable to the US. What would make a valid test of comparability: some kind of IFR/VFR ratio of filed flights or VFR-into-IMC accident rate per 100,000 flight hours as we do with the Nall report.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 27, 2012 3:41 PM    Report this comment

I don't buy the argument that Europe isn't valid, either, Dan. Nor do I blithely accept the claim that user fees would automatically reduce safety. It's an emotional argument. Show me the data and I'll get on board. Otherwise, I wouldn't just sing from the same hymnal because someone says I'm required to because of my exalted position at a blogger. It may intuitively obvious to you, it isn't to me and today's not my first day looking at issues like this.

One thing that is quite different about Europe is that the less litigious tort environment often yields lower insurance premiums and less training required to check out in an airplane. Here, insurers often require instrument ratings for higher performance airplane. In Europe, just the basic rating is often enough.

So you see some real boneheaded accidents related to lack of experience.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 27, 2012 4:07 PM    Report this comment

Here is what happens when I hear the pro fee arguments. First, I notice that every argument used to justify the tax on bizjets will work equally well when they apply it to pistons in a few years. Second, I realize that it's me, not the CEO in the jet that pays that hundred dollars because it doesn't come out of his salary. This whole thing is about the powerful trying to smack it to the merely wealthy. The pols and C's don't like waiting behind the entertainers and other high earners to depart from the Superbowl.

Lastly, I reflect on all the other user fees, like you mentioned, and how we are constantly forced to bear ridiculous inefficiencies and power grabs for the most basic functions while they give away the general taxes. I had a nice exchange with Dr. Poole of the Reason Foundation. He is brilliant, but he couldn't convince me that fees are actually good in practice. In theory they are great, but in practice they add inefficiency, solidify fiefdoms, and reduce freedoms. They will take your hundred dollars, spend half on collections, and reduce the external funding by the fees collected then cry they must double the fee to cover unexpected cost increases on the reduced activity. Meanwhile, the "savings" is used to buy votes.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 27, 2012 4:31 PM    Report this comment

This is always an informative blog, and I often find myself challenging my own beliefs after reading some of the comments that show up here.

That being said, here's why I think User Fees are bad: 1) As it is, I avoid going to airports that I know have ridiculous landing and/or "approach" landing fees unless I really have to go there. (Note I said "ridiculous * fees", not "* fees" - a $10 landing fee that is waived with fuel purpose or if I stay on airport property is not a big deal. 2) With #1 in mind, I would be more inclined to consider "do I really need X service this flight". Currently, if I'm going more than 150-or-so NM, I usually file IFR because it makes transiting complex airspace easier and I'm guaranteed ATC services (not just "workload permitting"). But if it's a VFR day and I'd have to pay $100 for those services, I would likely seriously consider not filing nor getting Flight Following, because $100 represents a fairly large percentage of my normal flight costs. I wouldn't *purposely* avoid these services if I really needed it, but having a not-insignificant financial cost would at least be somewhat of a "gethomeitis" effect (perhaps call this "no-fee-itis"?)

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 27, 2012 4:33 PM    Report this comment

I used to think user fees were bad but now with the government borrowing 40 cents of every dollar and 61.6 trillion in unfunded obligations I'm beging to think again. We owe $528,000 per household. Is $100 / flight going to fix this? I think not.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | February 27, 2012 7:08 PM    Report this comment

I have no horse in this race. However,what does make me all “steamed up” is to see that intellectual resources are being wasted by using an important issue –in this case Users Fees---as stealth weaponry in attacking every possible flaw in the aviation system. This approach will not enhance progress. The simple and only “true” issue here is; “sharing of expenses according to actual use between competitive businesses” --that is the Airlines and Business Aviation. Our “Clubby” aviation organizations “posture” is; “we pay at the pump and this has worked well for ages”. Running the hazard of underestimating the intellectual capacity of these organizations, let me just note that a 747 and a Business Jet flying Los Angles –New York use different amount of fuel but the same services. Hence, “paying at the pump” leaves the Airlines at a business disadvantage. Granted, collection of “User’s Fees” appears to require new effort on the Federal Level which is certainly not desirable. But I do disagree with using this---in addition to apparent “chumminess” with Business Aviation--(after all—you might not be invited to next Super Ball)—to largely deflect away from the real issue and end up in a “completely irrelevant world”. A related issue is the obvious destructiveness of this policy to those who want to enter Aviation either as a profession or just as a hobby.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | February 27, 2012 7:09 PM    Report this comment

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think "pay at the pump" only applies to GA. Commercial carriers don't actually pay a fuel tax. They don't even pay a tax for FAA services. The FAA levies a ticket tax on the passengers to pay for the services, which the airlines should be able to efficiently collect as part of their ticket sale transactions.

Regardless, Helge, your point of view reminds me a lot of the "blip is the blip" argument that came from the airlines a few years ago, which focuses on the delivery of the service. However, this completely ignores the beneficiaries of the services. I.e., a lot more people in the 747 benefit from ATC than the bizjet. I think the beneficiary viewpoint supports the current system of ticket taxes on the commercial passengers and the fuel taxes on GA.

Personally I’m biased towards the current system and I consider it a user fee TOO. It’s one that I think is consistent and efficient to collect. I think we as an aviation community should try to get that point across. We already pay a user fee (in GA)—it’s the fuel tax. I think IF the real issue is that more money must be collected, than we should talk about raising the fuel tax. And we should be discussing the merits of how much.

Posted by: Matt Recupito | February 27, 2012 8:17 PM    Report this comment

The actual problem with a blip is a blip is not how many benefit. The real issue is level of service. We have a system designed to service the airlines and huge jets with allowances for GA users. We all agree that makes perfect sense, but let's not forget we all have an equal right to use of the sky.

The analogy here is making pedestrians pay a tax to cross at a traffic light after already charging them a shoe tax that was supposed to cover their share.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 27, 2012 9:38 PM    Report this comment

If pilots had been paying for services received, they would have insisted on getting value for their money. But it was "free" and FAA ATC was allowed to evolve - not just exorbitantly expensive - but also exceedingly inefficient. Just listen to those center controllers in the western half of the country who mostly just do frequency changes. Our cell phones do frequency changes too, sometimes every couple of seconds, and no human is required. If we had been paying, the whole thing would have evolved a different way. But we didn't and now it's time to pay the (off-tune) piper.

We pilots shouldn't expect nor desire some fumbling federal functionary to hold our hands at all times. Or in the alternative, we should be willing to pay whatever it costs.

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | February 27, 2012 9:53 PM    Report this comment

It would be great to live in a world where things don't change, and we can continue to enjoy the NAS and all the services we get for a small tax payed at the pump. The reality of it is nothing is free. Statistically, the FAA has pointed out that we use somewhere in the neighborhood of 11% of all services while we apparently pay only 7% of the costs. I personally think that is rather high, I think we pay less but that's beside the point. We enjoy alot, for a little. Some of us are screaming at the top of our lungs about deficits. The harsh reality of it is we are running a deficit in ga. Whether you want to admit it or not. Remember that when your arguing for balanced budgets and no deficits, reigning in spending. your making the case for why user fees should exist. Our peace of the pie is not more important than others.. When you sound the call to arms for war against government spending, and charge, watch out cuz your heading for the mirror with your spending cuts axes ready to start hacking budgets and such...

Posted by: rob haschat | February 28, 2012 1:37 AM    Report this comment

Robert,

Any chance you would consider my point that equal pay for u equal status and service isn't fair either? I could spend hours listing the extra costs and reduced services.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 28, 2012 1:48 AM    Report this comment

@Helge but also beyond : airliners aren't just another blip. That's their argument and it doesn't fly. Airlines and their wave scheduling tactics are the cause of congestion and the reason behind ATC. Scrap them and you have a flurry of disparate activity that doesn't need ATC. They want GA to pay for their tactics, and unless we are informed and agree that "a blip is NOT a blip", we will end up doing so.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | February 28, 2012 4:06 AM    Report this comment

In any case, the argument is moot if we are smart. Technology being what it is, we can do away with 99% of ATC while being safer, reducing emissions, reducing fuel burn all at the same time. We need a nextgen born from innovation. The sky is large, so a small avionics box and (maybe) some ground stations can separate us no probs. When it comes to congested runways, let the airlines fight over slots and pay "slot police" from their own pockets. The whole shabang could cost a fraction of current expenditure. Let's turn the argument around and agree on fees in return for more policy control. They will (unfortunately?) drop user fee proposals in a heartbeat just to safeguard their fiefdoms.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | February 28, 2012 4:12 AM    Report this comment

$100 is just a number pulled out of someone's orifice. It has no basis in reality or rational thought. THAT IS WHY it should be rejected; it represents both the nonsense and the complete misunderstanding of the system.

The real fear is that IF this nonsense is enacted, then the nonsense will be dialed-up to higher amounts of nonsense with even less justification. If $100 was OK, why not $150, $200, $500 to pay for(insert Federal "good cause" here)?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 28, 2012 9:24 AM    Report this comment

GA pilots already have an irrational fear of declaring an emergency because they think they might get in trouble or have to fill out "paper work". If a pilot chooses not to use Flight Following or fly on an IFR flight plan, and they need to declare an emergency, will they get charged a $100 "user fee"? As PIC, we have the authority to break the rules to the extent necessary to resolve the emergency, so if that means flying into controlled airspace, it would seem a "user fee" would be in order. Okay, the proposed $100 is for turbine-only aircraft (so far), but they sometimes have to declare emergencies too, and I doubt they'd avoid doing such just to avoid the fee, but what about if it eventually (inevitably?) includes piston aircraft too? Would that be just one more reason a pilot would unwisely choose not to ask for help (i.e. declare an emergency)?

This is all conjecture anyway, I know. But where as a driver choosing to take an alternate route to avoid paying tolls has to pay for that in (usually) increased travel time, a GA pilot (outside of Class-A airspace) can choose to do without ATC services without any increase in travel time (and often can actually SAVE time by doing so). However, that pilot is instead flying without a service that greatly enhances safety. I think we should be *encouraging* use of these services, not *discouraging* use.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 28, 2012 9:45 AM    Report this comment

Maybe this is all we need to know:

Total assets in the United States equal just $72.3 trillion. Subtract our $126 trillion in unfunded liabilities including the national debt and that leaves the country about $54 trillion in debt, or $168,750 per American and, worse, $385,714 per taxpayer.

So, talking about a measly $100 fee is inconsequential. Flying has always been relatively expensive and it is set to get MUCH worse, so the only way to stay ahead is to hedge costs.

For example, when you buy an airplane, also buy stock in companies that have something to do with airplanes, such as Garmin (GRMN) and Chevron (CVX). If you had done this your net costs of flying would have been significantly reduced. If you had also bought stock in Apple (AAPL), the airplane you bought would have been "free". Obviously timing and the amount hedged also count.

Of course.... the best way out is to simply quit flying, but don't worry, the EPA is about to decide that question for us.

Posted by: George Dyer | February 28, 2012 2:09 PM    Report this comment

To Matt and Peter whose motivation is not completely clear. My comments were in no way a “defense” of the position of the airlines. My problem is with “the process” and first of all the complete lack of constructive involvement of the Aviation Organizations which for years has basically consisted of one word ---“NO”---. We are now heading for a Government imposed Users Fees on “non- piston aircrafts” which makes absolutely no sense as many businesses using services do run with “pistons” and hence should pay. (Again, I am not making an argument for this—only “predicting” what we will see in the future). The next thing we will see is that somebody wants our Flight Schools to pay—they can indeed be qualified as “businesses”. What about the “weekend flyer” that under the supervision of an instructor is practicing for his IFR rating—the argument can indeed be made that services are used hence payment is due? With up front active and constructive involvement of the Aviation Organizations negotiating firm agreements these future “quagmires” would be avoided. Sometimes I have the feeling that it is “deliberate policy”---although not subject for an open hangar discussion but more similar to the subject of sex a hundred years ago---to keep the issue “unresolved”. This “self-serving policy” will minimize the exposure to possible failure and at the same time serves as a monetary collection vehicle to finance various dinner presentations and junkets in and outside the country.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | February 28, 2012 2:31 PM    Report this comment

Remember in school doing tests with word associations?

Here's a new one: What do all these have in common?

The United States Post Office; Department of Energy; Amtrak; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; Congress; Department of Education, FAA; Department of Agriculture; EPA; General Aviation User Fees.

Posted by: George Dyer | February 28, 2012 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Helge, I agree that part of the problem is actually the default "no" answer from our associations. There probably is some truth to the presumption that these fees are being imposed because the government feels it's the only way.

The problem with comparing the fee/payment/tax structure of aviation to cars/interstate highway/etc is that aviation IS unique. As such, some of the things you can do with automobiles, you can't do with aviation, and v.v.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 28, 2012 5:21 PM    Report this comment

If all pilots would pony-up 100 bucks each and hire an auditor to audit the FAA for waste. Then have the congress impose all the cost cutting ideas on the FAA. The FAA could probably get alone fine and not worry about a users fee.

Posted by: Unknown | February 28, 2012 6:04 PM    Report this comment

Didn't the alphabets counter propose a reasonable increase in the fuel tax? That's more than just saying no.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 28, 2012 6:23 PM    Report this comment

OK...quoting from the AOPA bible "what's wrong with the current system of fuel tax?"...and I have to say that I agree with them...it seems that the more fuel you buy, the more tax you pay.

I know companies that operate Cheyenne's and a Pilatus and they have told me that they will sell their airplanes and buy a couple of 414/421 if this stupid user fee goes through...

How many times does it take before $100 starts to make "real money"...not long in my opinion.

Posted by: R. Doe | February 28, 2012 6:29 PM    Report this comment

Oh, and to defend the management at Punta Gorda (Charlotte County) and their ability to work the system, it is the first airport I've ever been able to rent a hanger. Everyplace else that I've been at you go on the waiting list.

Posted by: Unknown | February 29, 2012 8:46 AM    Report this comment

If the administration spent as much time/effort on waste reduction as it did on pushing through new fees, everyone would benefit. As it is, this will be a lose-lose for aviation. The mantra of everyone needing to pay more and then give up more is wearing awfully thin.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 29, 2012 10:14 AM    Report this comment

"Everyplace else that I've been at you go on the waiting list."

Guess you didn't check with Venice. How many hangars would you like? Airport manager said last month the vacancy rate is down to about six or seven.

But you're right about Punta Gorda. Excellent management and a community that values its airport.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 29, 2012 1:18 PM    Report this comment

The “old question” quoted by J.Doe ..”What is wrong with the current system of fuel tax” ---portrays precisely what is wrong with “the process“ and it has only “indirectly“ to do with specific subjects like “users fees or paying at pump”. (It can easily be applied to issues as for example declining number of aviators.) It has to do entirely with impotence--- “modulated” by personal benefit scheming ----as displayed by those Organizations in Aviation we look to for constructive involvement. Mr. J. Doe should think carefully about why he finds it necessary to quote such a question on a relatively simple subject which”has been around for years “and which could have been negotiated into full agreement years ago across the aviation community –Airlines as well as GA-- with a “constructive, personal unselfish take charge attitude” in the proper corners of Aviation. And a question to you Paul (with your practical and “down to earth attitude” which I have high regard for): why after all these years of discussions within the Aviation Community on the subject of Users Fees do you find it necessary to introduce the subject with; “ User Fees; More Blather”? Don’t you think we ought to have progressed beyond this level of “problem solving” by now with the proper “leadership”? And where do you recommend The Aviation Community should look to for his “leadership”?

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | February 29, 2012 9:39 PM    Report this comment

I completely agree that this user fee proposal is politically motivated and at present would not make it through congress. The government has to get it's spending under control across the board! I have now determined that if I gave money every time the AOPA PAC sent me an appeal to fight user fees during the past year it would have been cheaper to pay the user fees.

Posted by: Steve Smith | March 1, 2012 8:12 AM    Report this comment

And where do you recommend The Aviation Community should look to for his “leadership”?

The question of the ages, Helge. Ideally, it should come from the advocacy groups and, in fact, does, although I agree that the potency of that leadership is occasionally found lacking.

What hobbles us all--and the source of my choice to use "blather"--is that as a nation, we no longer see beyond the confines of our own special interest group. We adhere to tribal politics. The phrase "common good" and "good public policy" doesn't exist in our world anymore. Personally, even though I try to advocate for aviation, I am not a single-issue person. I am both a citizen and an aviator. And also a proponent of the Oliver Wendell Holmes school of taxation.

That's why, in principle, I don't automatically react negatively to user fees. But I want to be shown the money is necessary, spent wisely and used efficiently. I'd rather do with a little less than a little more.

It's a hopelessly outdated and naive attitude, but I am stuck with it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 1, 2012 8:27 AM    Report this comment

"But I want to be shown the money is necessary, spent wisely and used efficiently. I'd rather do with a little less than a little more."

Is there *any* government agency that does this? ;-)

But on a more serious note, I agree with Paul's assessment that as a nation, we've become too single-minded. However, I'd also add that we've all become too negativity-minded, and I've seen this getting worse at each of the AOPA Expo/Summits I've been too (and not just in aviation, but that's the group I spend the most time in).

I'm not sure what the solution to all of this is, but the single-mindedness and negativity so many people have means they are less willing to compromise on issues. Aviation is a small group, and in negative thinking, what is bad for a small group must therefore be good for the greater whole... (especially if that small group is perceived as being accessible only to the super-rich)

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 1, 2012 8:41 AM    Report this comment

"I'd also add that we've all become too negativity-minded, and I've seen this getting worse at each of the AOPA Expo/Summits I've been to"

You cannot ignore the REASON that people are negative. Negativity toward the FAA is not innate, it was earned. For members of the aviation community to "compromise" at this point is actually bad for aviation. This actually started before the FAA/DHS deemed private aviation a RISK. Use fees are just adding insult to injury.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 1, 2012 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Anyone have a good link to FAA expenditures over the last 10-20 years or so?

Would be interesting to look at and analyze for ourselves whether user fees would be making up for a shortfall.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 1, 2012 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Wake up people. The safety argument holds no water. The very simple answer to people opting out and reducing safety is to not make use of the system optional. The government will mandate use of the system and payment of the fee. Flying outside the system will be a criminal act and a threat to national security, and THEY have the F-16's to enforce compliance. The valid argument is that there will be no net gain. Between the massive bureaucracy required to collect and process the proposed fee, and the corresponding drop in GA travel that will result, the system will be a net loser from the get-go. What AOPA and the other org's need to do is to hire an economist to run the numbers and then present the results, to Congress and the public, every time the numbnuts in chief tries to win votes through class envy.

Posted by: Mark Consigny | March 1, 2012 1:13 PM    Report this comment

I've often wondered at how much money is wasted collecting tolls, park entrance fees (to OUR parks and roads, no less) and administering "safety inspections" for our cars.

Keep the government's paws out of our pockets. They're in there too deep already.

Posted by: Scott Whitcher | March 1, 2012 5:16 PM    Report this comment

Paul;---with respect to the “advocacy groups” the statement “the potency of that leadership is occasionally found lacking”---indicates that you have “mellowed”. I guess a trip to the “woodshed” over the attack on the AOPA piggybank has been a “motivator” here? Let us make one thing unequivocally clear; we are not facing an “occasional lack of leadership” but a conscientious effort to stay safely on the “periphery” of any subject to minimize “risky exposure” ( also avoid “irritating” the “Power Brokers” in GA) and hence maximize personal benefits.(A few more years and the retirement package is ripe). This “executive leadership” has resulted in a “redefinition” of problems within General Aviation. For example; the declining number of new aviators has been “blamed on” a dislike with instructors. This has further developed –as recently displayed on the Editorial Page in a major “Advocacy Publication” –into “a complicated Issue” – example of remedial actions—social activities for examples “weekend cookouts”. We all know of course that the reason for the declining number of Aviators can for all practical purpose be traced to one issue alone “Costs”, however “too risky” to approach. If it had not been for the destructive impact on the start-up phase of General Aviation we could of course all laugh at this “silliness”. Of course the “advocacy executives” will all be retired to “idling in their rockers” when the destructive impact is fully realized.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | March 1, 2012 7:34 PM    Report this comment

Helge, Yes, flying isn't cheap, and no one ever said it was. It can be made reasonably affordable, but never cheap. However, cost alone isn't the reason people don't finish flight training, and it's more than just the time it takes, too. The problem is when you combine the cost, time and effort with ratty aircraft and less-than-professional flight instructors.

In short, it's the snowball effect. You keep piling on little things here and there, and eventually it gets to a point where it's not worth it any more for some people. And that's the problem with the proposed $100 user fee, it's just one more fee upon many others that we have to pay for, with no value-add to us.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 1, 2012 8:08 PM    Report this comment

Garry—“ratty aircrafts and less-than –professional flight instructors”--can be traced directly back to “costs”. These machines and individuals operate to a large extent in an environment with unjustifiable direct and overhead charges---varying from airport to airport depending on the “fanciness” of the airport---- related to many services not used/needed to provide instruction. A flight school has no control over these charges but does indeed decide aircrafts and instructors provided. Hence, by providing “ratty aircrafts and less-than –professional flight instructors” enables the Flight School to pay airport bills, minimize student departure and still stay in the black. With the proper attitude and unselfish motivation, the “Associations” would take charge of an effort aimed at establishing a cost structure in which start-up aviation just paid for services needed and received—may be even with a grant from AOPA’s savings account. Granted, this would be “risky” as many aviation “power brokers” would be upset and some “Advocacy Executives” might have to accept taking up “flying the rocker” earlier than planned. But I am sure that our future Aviators would be more pleased with cost control and decent services than weekly “cookouts”.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | March 1, 2012 10:50 PM    Report this comment

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