Lobby groups keep focus on FAA funding stream

 - September 26, 2007, 5:50 AM

With Congress back in Washington, D.C., after its long summer hiatus, the propaganda war between general aviation and airlines continued apace, with lawmakers caught in the crossfire.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, blamed a surge in corporate jet and small GA traffic for bottlenecks throughout the National Airspace System this summer. It tried to garner support for its position that the FAA should be financed through a system of user fees.

Airlines carried their message to passengers through e-mails, airline magazine commentaries and in-flight videos. Sympathetic editorials and articles in the mass media suggested that they had achieved at least some measure of success.

But their cause took a hit when outgoing FAA Administrator Marion Blakey–in her final speech before the Washington Aero Club two days before she completed her five-year term–blamed airline delays on their own scheduling practices, not ATC or general aviation. She even hinted at government intervention if the practice is not curtailed.

Blakey did not give GA a pass, instead calling for “our business jet and general aviation partners” to be part of the solution to the FAA’s need for funding. Aiming at GA, she said, “Flying to and from wherever you want whenever you want is not a free utility.”

Interim Plan Likely

As this page was going to press, the House and Senate were waiting for the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Finance to develop palatable plans to amend or extend the current system of excise and fuel taxes.

The current FAA authorization and taxes supporting the Airport and Airway Trust Fund were set to expire September 30, so many Capitol Hill observers expected that a short-term continuing resolution would be needed to give the House and Senate time to complete a final bill.

The National Air Transportation Association encouraged its members to write Congress in support of a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recommendation to leave the current funding structure in place with minor increases in the taxes on jet fuel and avgas.
Meanwhile, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen sent letters to the Washington Post and USA Today taking issue with recent articles. He pointed out that a Post editorial titled “Late Again” failed to mention that business aviation and the rest of general aviation are prepared to pay more for modernization of the ATC system.

He chastised USA Today for failing to mention in its article “Airlines recruit frequent fliers to lobby Congress” that businesses using GA aircraft are mostly small to midsize companies that “represent the lifeblood of small communities nationwide and provide vital services such as medical evacuation flights.”

Bolen said the article didn’t point out that the airlines are playing on the frustrations of thousands of passengers by trying to garner support for another tax break. “Experts, including air traffic controllers, report that this season’s unprecedented delays result from the weather and the airlines’ own practices: increased use of regional jets, too few employees and more peak-time schedules at hub airports,” he wrote.