USA Today Blows It On Airport Funding

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

If I'm catching USA Today writer Thomas Frank's drift, he thinks that aviation activity beyond the "139 well-known commercial airports that handle almost all passenger flights" isn't worth the bother of the federal government.

It would be interesting, but dangerous and impractical to test his thesis. There are about 5,000 airports in the U.S that are eligible for, and, quite rightly, receive federal funding. By Frank's metrics, they're wasting taxpayers' dollars because they do nothing to ensure he can get from New York to L.A. in the manner to which he is accustomed.

OK. So rather than let the slow rot of underfunding do its cruel and painful work, let's just close the airports that aren't pulling their weight. God help Frank if he has a heart attack, needs to ship something overnight or wants to cash a check. Fortunately, most people understand the value of general aviation even if they don't understand how it works very well.

Frank's job is to understand his topics and provide balance. In this case, he does neither.

Comments (37)

Russ, dead on commentary with one exception. I don't think that most people understand the value of GA. When people find out I'm a GA pilot, their reactions range from admiration to indifference to incredulity that I would be crazy enough to fly in one of those "little airplanes". "Your wife lets you do that?" is a common reaction. Despite the valiant efforts of AOPA and others, to most people GA is the corporate fatcat in their Gulfstream or the JFK Jr-style rich playboy adrenaline junkie. Unless a person has an interest in GA, they're not going to go much beyond just accepting whatever their chosen media outlet tells them. They're dumb, they just don't have time to dig deeper into every story they read. I'm frustrated; I don't know what it's going to take to get the word out about GA. A lot of people do a lot of good work with local media, but we still have a major issue when it comes to the big media outlets.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | September 18, 2009 9:21 AM    Report this comment

Oops. Typo on my part. The line should have read "They're not dumb, they just don't have time to dig deeper into every story they read."

Posted by: Chris McLellan | September 18, 2009 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Great summation, Russ. Like the previous reader said, dead-on.

Posted by: Rob Finfrock | September 18, 2009 9:59 AM    Report this comment

On the contrary: I hope he has a heart attack as soon as possible, preferably far away from any possible medical help.

Posted by: David Bliss | September 18, 2009 6:34 PM    Report this comment

Let's fast forward to a future where the ATA has orchestrated the death of most GA airports. Now, where are the airline new pilot hires coming from? Are the airlines going to start providing flight raining ab-initio through ATP, give them 1,500 hours of experience, and in general pay the $100k or so it takes to get the ratings and experience to be qualified to fly an airliner?

When the airlines diss GA, they're biting the hand that feeds them.


Posted by: MICHAEL MURDOCK | September 19, 2009 2:34 PM    Report this comment

That should have read... "...putting a human face on GA." please excuse the typo.

Posted by: Ken Anderson | September 19, 2009 3:30 PM    Report this comment

I fly in connection for my business, which is growing in this dismal economy. Perhaps the folks at USA Today are too secure in their employment.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 19, 2009 5:07 PM    Report this comment

They could close all the "small airports", ground all the GA planes and I will still be holding for ERW due to "flow". The USA Today is clueless.

Posted by: daniel schultz | September 20, 2009 7:18 AM    Report this comment

Oops, I ment to say EWR or Newark.

Posted by: daniel schultz | September 20, 2009 7:19 AM    Report this comment

USA Today is owned by Gannett Newspapers. According to the FAA registry they own a Falcon 2000, a Dauphin helicopter, and a piece of a Netjets Citation Sovereign. Apparently someone in the company, and the shareholders, find GA valuable. Maybe the flight crews need to take the boss and editors aside for a friendly, but pointed, chat before they board the jet on their way to a (undoubtedly) GA airport. I'll bet they much prefer to operate in and out of GA airports. If they want to have that option in the future, they need to consider it as they choose which stories to print.

Posted by: Tom Chandler | September 21, 2009 9:44 AM    Report this comment

All of you are missing one important statement from this story. The money they claim is added to each airline ticket to finance airports. This seems to be their whole reason for starting this attack on the "little" airports. Its the same reasoning behind the guy who hates tax money spent on bike paths because he does not own a bike. I don't care about this guy not liking us, but I do care very much that many people who don't know better will believe what he wrote. I for one will not be to eager to buy USA Today or trust future articles they run.

Posted by: dominic accettola | September 21, 2009 10:03 AM    Report this comment

USA today is printed by presses scattered throughout the country. Next time one of their presses goes down and needs a critical part, perhaps they should put their theory that a fuel tax supported transportation network like GA airports are not needed to the test and send the part via a transportation system that uses no tax supported money, including GA airports, the interstate highway system, county, or city roads. Let's see how long that press stays down.

Posted by: Rob Norris | September 21, 2009 10:29 AM    Report this comment

I agree that most people don't know about the benefits of GA. When I tell people a lot of my marketing clients are business/general aviation, they start going off on how can I help rich guys get richer and have aircraft. Then I explain what GA and business aviation REALLY does, and within 10 minutes, they do a whole 180. The reason why? I don't own aircraft. I don't personally use private aircraft. But I am educated enough to know why it is important to a country the size of most continents. They see me as a "neutral" party in the conversation and are more willing to listen when I present the info. Often times, they even ask me, "why didn't I hear about this before?", and it's because they don't get exposure outside mainstream media.

It's time to take the aviation message outside the organizations.

Posted by: Jill Heisterkamp | September 21, 2009 11:39 AM    Report this comment

Let me see, following his logic, letís only fund transportation projects in and directly between major cities. No more roads or bridges except within major population centers (thatís where the people are Ė right). We canít have exits along the interstates; people only want to go to major cities. There is no need for federal support for police in rural or sparsely populated areas, small population to law enforcement ratios are not as cost effective. Letís hope we never have an airliner that needs to make an emergency landing, out of glide range from a major airport. Once GA is gone, it will never be rebuilt and we will have lost our edge in another world market.

Posted by: Douglas Manuel | September 21, 2009 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I have to say, tho, that his 'logic' is spot on with average Americans. Just today in our local paper 60 little-used bus routes are being eliminated due to the economy, state buildings that are not priorities are being sold off for much needed revenue, and so it goes.
This mindset today is very powerful, and couple that with so many now angrily saying for the Federal gov't to get out and stay out (is it inept or not- seems to be very conditional to many) and 'use my taxes just for the things I want', we are really up against a formidable foe.
I can appreciate the common response to get angry, but I think it's going to take a lot more than anger and rebuttals for this social mindset of most Americans to gain greater awareness on the value of GA. I'm on board, tho. Was just involved in a PilotsnPaws rescue.

Posted by: David Miller | September 21, 2009 12:32 PM    Report this comment

I'm afraid this is a losing battle. Even if you could get all of the aviation alphabet groups to join forces, the numbers are just a drop in the bucket. The average USA Today reader this article was targeted at will believe it and has probably never heard of AOPA. If they have, they probably think of AOPA as just another lobbyist group for fatcat airplane owners.

Now if you told the average USA Today reader that the feds were no longer going to allow him to drive his car on federally funded roads because those roads were going to be reserved for "necessary transportation needs", then John Q might understand.

Posted by: Mike Wills | September 21, 2009 3:44 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps I'm overly pessimistic. When something like this happens, the aviation alphabets all have a reaction as do the rank and file guys like you and I. I'm sure AOPA has a strongly worded counterpoint to this article. but unlike the original USA Today article, the only people who will see the AOPA reaction will be pilots. You can bet that wont appear in USA Today, or on any of the networks.

We (not just gen av, but we as a people) have a real problem in this country with the media. They will claim they dont make the news, they just report it. But they chose what they print or show on TV, and in so doing they shape public perception. How does a small community (like gen av) breach this hold that the mainstream media has on the public? I dont have a clue but I doubt a grass roots effort revolving around airport open houses, Young Eagle events, etc... is going to do the trick.

Posted by: Mike Wills | September 22, 2009 2:20 PM    Report this comment

I have yet to find any understanding of what GA is, among the population outside of the aviation community. We have the major airlines to thank for protecting their "turf" by propaganda and innuendo. They have an ear with every passenger. Ask anyone and you'll find that those little planes are nothing but trouble for them. Dangerous little noise makers that nobody needs. There you have it! So many of us have tried to change that opinion with facts and figures, without success, that we give up.
The next time you bitch about "all of those damn trucks", consider how much effort has been made to point out the "good" they do for us. Unless the public image of General Aviation is changed we will have this conversation forever.

Posted by: Larry Fries | September 22, 2009 2:56 PM    Report this comment

I would personally not look to blame gov't, the media or the airlines but agree with others to look the direction of the populace - where Fear and lack of interest of flying and small planes exists across the board.

However, dare I also bring up the dumbing down of society as a significant impediment? Getting the easily offended, sound bite mentality and quick results populace to see the intrinsic, long term and community value in a small airport seems much harder to do now, despite the noble grass-roots efforts we employ.

My best impression is that we are unorganized and unfocused as an industry - I'm sure some may disagree - but maybe we need a kick butt, take-no-prisoners lobbyist to just get what we need from the gov't and quit trying to always explain our important, essential purpose. Where's Yosemite sam when you need him?!

Posted by: David Miller | September 22, 2009 6:28 PM    Report this comment

It would be interesting to know if Mr. Frank is in favor of eliminating all funding for secondary roads and to only fund interstate highways!

Come to think of it, he probably thinks all the left hign-speed lanes on interstate highways should be open omly to Greyhounds!

Posted by: Paul Frederick Siegel | September 23, 2009 2:35 AM    Report this comment

In lamenting the lack of utilization of GA airports by the majority of air travellers, the article sort of argues in favor of their existence:

"For private pilots, the airport network is a world of ease and tranquility unknown to airline passengers who endure long trips to airports, costly parking, slow security screening, packed airplanes and delayed flights.

Private fliers often have a choice of nearby airfields that typically offer free parking, have no security screening, no delays and little congestion."

The airports are there, the money has been spent, and there's an implication that some of the hub and spokers would rather be doing point to point, or point to hub, hub to point, what have you. So how do you increase access to GA airports for practical travel by average folk? Admittedly tough, mainly on the basis of cost (the $ part), as compared with travel by airline.

Short of that, is it possible that some of the money spent on GA airports is "wasted", i.e., there is economic, medical, and other benefit gained, but not millions of dollars' worth? I beleive a certain PA representative is catching some flak for that very thing.

BRAC comes to mind with this subject; no community wants THEIR base closed, but that doesn't necessarily mean it wouldn't be a benefit to the big picture. Just a few thoughts, and maybe unwelcome 'balance' among the comments here, but still from the aviation enthusiast side.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | September 23, 2009 8:37 AM    Report this comment


I might add I'm total agreement with the emotional aspect of the previous comment by jason apol, regarding GA flying.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | September 23, 2009 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Jason makes an excellent point. Perhaps this is a way to change public perception one person at a time.

Posted by: Douglas Manuel | September 23, 2009 8:44 AM    Report this comment

What if all the GA pilots used one of the 139 major airports for a day, instead of their own smaller field? Practicing takoffs & landings, departing on business or volunteer flights, new student or advanced training - see how much this clogs up the system. Also, put ATC trainees at one of these major airports. Then Thomas Franks might change his mind when his flight is delayed due to excessive traffic and a new controller.

Posted by: Anne Wright | September 23, 2009 9:03 AM    Report this comment

While I agree with Anne (in concept) I rather doubt if we could get practice approaches at major airports (Potomac Approach says they have a rule against it - at least at IAD). To fly into one of these airports would probably entail a landing fee that most SEL types would not be happy with. Then there is the posibility that the airlines/passengers would rise up and make some kind of regulation banishing us certain airports, altitudes or routes of flight. After all, it would be argued, why should a few small planes interfere with thousands of (possibly ignorant or ill-informed) passengers. Isn't it easier and more popular to tax or regulate when it does not affect one directly?

Posted by: Douglas Manuel | September 23, 2009 10:13 AM    Report this comment

Anne, that's a good one. ORD anyone? lol! One of the fellows from our club got in to ORD with a PA28 to drop off passengers. They held him circling over lake Michigan for half an hour before letting him land. They barely made their commercial flight.
I wonder what the USA today headline would look like?? Hmmmmmm.......

Posted by: jason apol | September 23, 2009 1:17 PM    Report this comment

While Anne's idea is fun to think about, creating chaos, confusion, compromising safety and showing how bad we can be is not the way to show how good we are. It is far better to make friends one at a time than to alienate hundreds at once.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 23, 2009 1:22 PM    Report this comment

While my post was tongue-in-cheek, it serves a purpose. Without all our GA airports, what would air traffic really look like? A real mess, that's what! Frank doesn't have a practical plan, other than to cozy up to the airlines for whatever his personal agenda is. I don't understand why this country has become so GA-averse.

Posted by: Anne Wright | September 23, 2009 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Oh, now I see what Anne was implying - good point. Without GA airports to use we'd have to utilize the 139 major airports. Thus, the FAA/ATC creed of first come - first served would have to come into play (even if it does not seem to apply when an air carrier is involved)making holding patterns a common event. If that ever comes to pass, let's hope the same bill, that kills GA airports, also requires that Tom Frank's home address and phone number be posted on every airline ticket, so passengers can personally thank him for saving the taxpayer money(even though it is not really their money since it comes from a fuel tax)and improving their travel experience.

Posted by: Douglas Manuel | September 23, 2009 1:52 PM    Report this comment

Society is not GA averse any more than it is truck stop averse. The times they are needed, they are used by everyone. Like lw said, society really doesn't know what this loose knit, dispersed group of business, recreation, training, emergency - heck I barely can describe it group of flying is. We have to broaden our discussion from our religious attachment to GA and understand we are not at all unique in this movement to trim, consolidate, and make everything more efficient.
Business, gov't, my job, all are doing it, is it really so strange that we should need to adapt in GA too?
And are we to believe that Cirrus wants a few wealthy boaters to buy their product for benevolent, not for profit reasons?
C'mon, hoping Frank gets a heart attack and all this aggresive talk about 'close our airports and we'll show you' threats just to me makes us look even more vulnerable and as easy prey.
I agree with those who are frustrated; but this viewpoint of fly-ins, mockups, and a person at a time only applies to the < 1% who actually have an interest - it's the majority who do not have an interest in aviation we need to reach. Let's keep thinking and discussing..

Posted by: David Miller | September 23, 2009 4:43 PM    Report this comment

YOU GO, Dave!

Posted by: Larry Fries | September 23, 2009 4:51 PM    Report this comment

I am cynical-enough to believe the attacks on GA airports by USA Today and others are the initial salvo of a coordinated effort by the Obama administration to make GA flying very difficult. Yes, I think the media are being shills for Obama in this case. It started with the criticism of the automobile executives flying their corporate jets to Washington. Eventually, everyone of us in GA will be taxed, given restrictions on access to the ATC system, or even grounded by Obama, because we are mostly "rich" men who are exercising our current freedom to use the airways and land on and depart from airports that are safe and well-maintained.
Just my cynical 2 cents worth.

Posted by: LARRY W JAMES | September 24, 2009 2:09 AM    Report this comment

I believe this country has become GA-averse, or maybe hostile is a better word. TSA, Homeland Security, new border controls (have you tried flying your private plane to Canada lately?), TFRs: all very restrictive, and have nothing to do with what happened 9/11/01. Last year one of the large airlines had a seat insert blaming GA for its problems (weather & scheduling were the real culprits). The general public doesn't know the real story, so somehow we need to get it out in a palatable manner.

Posted by: Anne Wright | September 24, 2009 8:39 AM    Report this comment

Dave, while I agree with you in principle, I still cant get past the role that mainstream media plays in this (and many other) current issues that impact our lives.
Someone pointed out the dumbing down of society as a whole. When things go wrong society looks for someone to blame and the mainstream media takes advantage of this by showing them a target without the means to defend itself.
In this case a couple of numb CEOs go to Washington hat in hand in their corporate jets and Gen Av as a whole becomes the target. The mainstream media's one sided reporting implying that Gen Av is basically a bunch of fatcats flying around the country on the backs of the taxpayer. And our response is to complain amongst ourselves on forums like this. Gen Av advocacy groups do essentially the same by publishing responses in aviation magazines that only pilots read.
I dont see how any sort of grassroots effort like displaying aircraft at boat shows and trying to win over the public one at a time can compete with the numbers that mainstream media can sway with their biased reporting.

Posted by: Mike Wills | September 24, 2009 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Don't forget the 'rich' ladies, Larry!... I recognize the reactive nature of the media but don't think the Prez is out to get us - just my opinion. I'm small potatoes and don't claim to know what maybe many of you know about the national issues better, but I do fly to Baja occasionally and find the complainers always have trouble with eAPIS and customs, I don't. Do your homework and be prepared - after all, it is the gov't - so patience is required... then worry about finding fuel down there! Also, recently about 25 folks from animal shelters, etc. were at airports locally with some of us pilots, loved it and look forward to returning for more rescues. No hostility to be found. Actually they patronized the cafe and pilot shop and some hung around for awhile.

The USA Today article is this subject, but also recently there have been about a dozen articles nationally and a GMA saturday spot on PilotsnPaws - all good, solid words for GA. Guess I don't have the overview of this plotting, serious persecution of GA that many have.
Keep up the good work, Ken and I'll check out your web page too.

Posted by: David Miller | September 24, 2009 12:44 PM    Report this comment

This report also made it to NPR's "All things considered" radio program. I'll just address some of the mis-facts I remember from the broadcast: 1> GA airports come from Civil Defense programs of the 50s. Un-uh. They're mostly left over from WWII. 2> They don't pull their weight in taxes. What? Use taxes, fuel taxes, hangar rent - shall I go on? 3> No mention was made of how many of these airports are privately owned but allow public usage. 4> The reporter complained about financing improvements that appear to have little utility. I'd say it's better to make improvements for the future when money is cheap (muni bonds) like it has been. 5> I DO believe our intrepid reporter from USATODAY was right about one thing..politicians forcing improvements in their districts to their own ends. Most GA people DISAGREE with this! Case in point - I remember when KOLM did fine without a tower till a certain Governor/Legislature decided that THEY would be safer with one. Pilots were the first to lambast this waste and abuse and told the public about it! 6> Finally, do people ever complain when a hospital they want; road improvements; extra police personnel; etc. are funded thru the influence of their local Pol? I think you guys get my point. One thing pilots do is Circle-the-Wagons and AOPA needs all the support we can give it in this regard. Just my 2 cents....

Posted by: MARK ROBINSON | September 24, 2009 4:20 PM    Report this comment

It's not so much ignorance of the public that makes the problem for GA. It is more of the lobby influence of the "majors". The airlines want ALL of the attention when it comes to funds. Forget the public and consentrate on Congress and the FAA.

Posted by: Larry Fries | December 14, 2009 4:34 PM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?


Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration