DOT IG: GA contributes to airspace congestion

 - March 28, 2008, 6:24 AM

The Transportation Department’s inspector general issued a report last month that contradicts general aviation’s claim that GA operators are only marginal airspace users. However, the report did support the assertion that GA user groups tend to avoid the large primary metropolitan airports.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure requested the audit to provide policymakers with a common understanding of who uses the National Airspace System (NAS) as lawmakers consider how to finance the aviation system into the future.

“Disagreement among stakeholders regarding their use of the NAS makes it difficult to evaluate [FAA] financing alternatives,” the report said. “Our specific objectives were to determine: (1) how different groups use NAS elements, (2) how that usage contributes to aviation congestion, (3) whether NAS users can be grouped in a meaningful manner based on their usage of the system, and (4) how good a proxy is jet fuel for use of FAA air traffic services.”

The DOT IG used FAA flight activity data for Fiscal Year 2005 and other data regarding the use of FAA tower, terminal and en route services by different aircraft types and user groups. The office also assessed the relationship between jet fuel consumption and use of the FAA’s ATC services in several representative markets.

It found that commercial air carriers and non-commercial air carriers, including general aviation and business jet operators, all make sufficient use of the NAS to materially contribute to the FAA’s costs and congestion in general. The report also found that both air carriers and non-air carriers contribute to congestion at the terminal area radar and en route facilities.

“Finally, we found that jet fuel consumption is a better proxy for the use of the NAS than the current aviation excise taxes, but it does not measure whether air traffic control services are used, nor does it distinguish among the types and complexities of services used,” the report said.

Following the release of the IG’s report, the Air Transport Association (ATA) issued a statement saying the report “concludes that business jets (referred to as non-air carriers) are not fully paying for their proportional use” of ATC services and contribute to air traffic congestion at the busiest Tracons.

“An initial review of the report’s findings confirms what…airlines have long been saying: business jets are being subsidized by…airlines and their customers,” ATA said. “Business jets are also significant contributors to air traffic congestion, especially in busy metropolitan areas.”

ATA seized on a portion of the report that said “more than half (53 percent) of non-air carrier operations occurred at the top third (162) most active towered airports” and added that their unscheduled peak flight times coincide with commercial airlines’ long-scheduled peak times. Left unsaid was that nine of the busiest towers are nearly exclusive non-air carrier facilities.

“The DOT IG report points clearly to the need for an equitable, cost-based funding system to properly modernize our ATC system and to prevent gridlock in the skies,” ATA said. “The future of air travel depends not only on an upgraded ATC system, but also on a fair and equitable funding system to pay for and support it. It is time for Congress to stop forcing the passenger in seat 28B to subsidize business jet travel.”