Flying is going to become more costly and constrained, if the U.S. government persists in efforts to tax business aircraft operators and limit their freedom to operate in the name of security, not to mention FAA actions that are causing more work for everyone.
Writing in the Inside Washington column in the National Air Transportation Association’s second-quarter 2012 Aviation Business Journal, Eric Byer, NATA v-p of industry and government affairs, pointed out that government agencies are circumventing the rulemaking process by issuing guidance material that becomes “considered mandatory even though technically it is not.”
For a long time, we have worried about the Transportation Security Administration’s plans to impose regulations on business aircraft operations. While the TSA claims to have evaluated the security risks posed by general aviation, it has refused to share the tiniest scrap of information with the stakeholders, those who operate aircraft. Without any real information, we are left to assume that the TSA is simply seeking ways to justify growing its bloated bureaucracy by regulating GA security. The TSA keeps promising to issue new proposed regulations on GA security, covering large aircraft operations, so watch out.
The FAA seems to generate its own procedures to over-regulate GA regularly. This appears not only with the guidance material that Byer aptly describes, but also with arbitrary requirements that have no safety benefit. For example, an avionics manufacturer told me of vibration requirements to meet helicopter certification standards. This particular unit has to be able to withstand a vibration so severe that any human occupants in the helicopter would be torn apart. Ummm, OK, so the avionics survived but the pilots were killed? Right.
Another example: the growing proliferation of Letters of Authorization required for operations that any skilled pilot can easily handle. Did you need an LOA to shoot your first ILS approach? Or to fly your jet at extremely high altitudes? Or to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at rush hour? All these LOAs do is increase your costs, add to the FAA’s burden (more bureaucracy, please) and do nothing to improve safety.
Now we have the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is ignoring decades of rulings and legislation in a reinterpretation of what type of operators pay the so-called “ticket tax.”
It is abundantly clear in reading the legislation that created the ticket tax that it applies to commercial flight operations, which means airlines and charter flights. And previous IRS rulings support that claim. Yet in March, the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel issued an internal memo, a Chief Counsel Advice (CCA) document, that justifies applying the ticket tax (Federal Excise Tax or FET) to Part 91 operations, specifically aircraft managed by management companies. As Byer noted, “Although the CCA is not technically able to be used or cited as precedent, it has already widely circulated within the agency and will certainly influence how ongoing and future audits are approached. The general aviation industry has enough to worry about nowadays, let alone an IRS fishing expedition that has legally been repeatedly shot down and is simply a free-time activity for a bunch of pencil pushers.”
So what should you do about government over-reaching, not only into your and your owner’s wallets but also the abuse of your rights and basic freedoms?
Just say no.
When the IRS says that it wants FET for a private flight by an aircraft owner in his or her airplane on his or her own business, say no. The rules clearly do not require a tax on Part 91 flights.
And when the FAA tries to tell you that guidance in an advisory circular or inspector policy document must be followed, just say no. Rules are rules and must be complied with, but FAA inspectors are not allowed to make up their own rules. Period.
And when the TSA issues the next version of the Large Aircraft Security Program, read the proposed regulations carefully and submit your comments. If the rules don’t make sense, that is, they do not specifically improve the security risk posed by GA operations, then say so, loud and clear.
And, added Byer, “I strongly encourage you to take action! Write your members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.” Both NATA and NBAA have handy online tools for contacting your legislators.
We have let our government consolidate too much power and we are allowing agencies to chip away at our freedoms. “I wonder,” wrote NATA president James Coyne in a recent President’s Letter, “if our founding fathers could even imagine how much regulatory power their limited federal government would one day command.”