No settlement yet in battle over FAA funding

 - July 2, 2007, 10:11 AM

General aviation and its allies continued the political infighting with the airline lobby over user fees last month, firing salvos at an Air  Transport Association (ATA) airport-shown television ad that portrayed GA–especially business jets–as the culprits behind airline delays.

The commercial shows a cartoon business jet muscling its way to the head of a queue of airliners because its bigwig passengers are racing to a tee time.
ATA began airing the ads on the CNN Airport Network, which is seen only in airport terminal waiting areas. GA cried foul, and the Alliance for Aviation Across America created a counter ad that accused the airlines of seeking more tax breaks from the federal government.

Last month, a bill that would provide an alternative to the Bush Administration’s FAA reauthorization proposal was working its way through the Senate. S.1300 would raise the tax on GA jet fuel from 21.8 cents a gallon to 49 cents per gallon and impose a new user fee of $25 per flight segment for all turbine-powered aircraft that use the ATC system. There would be no increase in the 19.3-cent a gallon tax on aviation gas.

The White House plan would have more than tripled GA fuel taxes–from 21.8 cents a gallon to 70 cents a gallon on jet fuel and from 19.3 cents to 70 cents per gallon on avgas. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved S.1300 in mid-May by the narrowest of margins after an attempt to strip the per-segment fee failed by a vote of 12-11. The Senate Finance Committee, which writes that body’s tax legislation, is now considering the bill.

The ATA cartoon ad drew an immediate response from NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. In a letter to CNN, he charged that the ad violates the network’s standards for advertising, which require that advertising be “in accordance with the highest industry standards, truthful and not misleading.”

Bolen wrote that the ATA ad “clearly does not meet that standard; to the contrary, the ad is false and deceptive.” He noted that the ad’s visual depictions and the statements of its airplane “characters… directly charge that general aviation aircraft are given priority in takeoff or landing.”

ATA Ad Draws Fire
Bolen noted that the Air Traffic Controllers Handbook clearly states that controllers are to provide ATC service to aircraft “on a first come, first served” basis except for aircraft in distress, certain military and medevac operations and other exceptional circumstances. “The ATA ad’s visual portrayal of a general aviation aircraft ‘coming through’ and slipping ahead of a commercial airliner on the runway is therefore entirely false and misleading,” he wrote.

Bolen also took issue with some other statements such as GA aircraft are “clogging up our skies” because “there’s twice as many of them as us nowadays.” He pointed out to CNN that GA operations at the nation’s 10 busiest airports account for less than 4 percent of total operations.

The counter ad created by the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a coalition of GA associations, local airports, economic development organizations and rural groups, also appeared on CNN’s Airport Channel in late May.

“At the nation’s busiest airports, small airplanes make up less than 4 percent of the traffic,” the Alliance ad states, “and Department of Transportation studies show that almost all delays are caused by weather and the airlines themselves.”

The Alliance also sent out a press release with a line-by-line “truth check,” countering every airline statement with facts. Also included were statements from former DOT Inspector General Ken Mead and National Air Traffic Controllers Association president Patrick Forrey disputing the airlines’ claims.

Along with Mead, the Government Accountability Office and the current DOT IG have concluded that there is adequate money under the existing FAA funding plan to operate the FAA and support ATC modernization.

AOPA reported that two airlines–Northwest and United–have been running anti-GA editorials in their in-flight magazines. The seatback literature takes aim at corporate aviation, claiming that business jets are not paying their fair share.

According to AOPA, Northwest’s senior v-p of government affairs wrote, “Every ticket you buy helps subsidize corporate aviation.”