Unity Results in User Fee Victory
There's a natural detachment that occurs when it comes to dealing with Washington, D.C. and it's not just the politicians who are involved. The ivory tower perspective gets the odd mention when it comes to coverage of the organizations that represent aviation. With the exception of EAA, they are based in the Washington area and I'll bet EAA's frequent flyer points accumulated on flights to Dulles and DCA are considerable. There's a reason for that and the White House's decision to scrap aviation user fees from the 2011 budget is a good example.
Not long after the first public utterance of the term "user fees" by then-FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, I was invited to a conference call involving the presidents of all the "alphabet groups" as we sometimes call them.
I'd read the proposal and something seemed obvious to me. User fees would have a far greater impact on business aviation than any other sector of GA. In fact, the more populous (read vote potential) piston sector was assured that no such infamy would befall them. Only turbine aircraft on IFR flight plans would be affected.
So, I asked the question to which I already knew the answer, which is something we have to do at times. Was the FAA trying trying to create division within the GA sector in the hopes of getting this hugely unpopular proposal passed?
The answer was political in nature. Of course not, I was assured, because it simply couldn't happen. GA is an alliance of like minds that understands the grass-roots importance of every aspect of non-airline aviating, from grass strip to the GV and Global Express.
I dutifully recorded those comments and watched over the years as GA out-politicked Washington. Make no mistake. The Washington bureaucracy believes that a European-style system of user-pay access to airports, navigation and weather services, one that stifles GA and heavily subsidizes airlines is the "efficient" way to keep America flying.
The airlines, of course, had their people working full bore for a system of fees that would have required a Cessna Mustang with a maximum of six people aboard to be considered an equal participant in the system to an A380.
It was ludicrous and everyone in aviation knew it.
So everyone in aviation fought it and it was a remarkable thing.
At every major aviation event, the leaders of EAA, AOPA, NATA, NBAA and GAMA presented a unified front, even though two of those groups, those with far and away the largest memberships, had already been assured their members would not suffer under the new regime.
And they took it a step further. They went beyond the Beltway and relentlessly spread the message that an assault on any sector of GA was an assault on all of GA. They targeted specific politicians with clout and those whose constituencies were heavily dependent on GA jobs. They called in favors, they made friends and they thoroughly defeated a movement that looked good to government bean counters but made no sense to operation of aircraft in the country.
The bureaucracy in Washington still thinks it was right in proposing this and it won't let go of that notion easily. Sometimes, however, a common sense argument presented by a unified force is enough to make the politicians listen to the people instead of the giant machine that rumbles under their feet.