The heads of the various general aviation trade associations participated in a roundtable forum here at AirVenture Tuesday to discuss the industry’s deteriorating relationship with the FAA. Attendees were asked to sign petitions opposing user fees and the FAA’s imposition on air traffic fees at AirVenture and given “This Isn't Over Buttons,” referring to the EAA’s continuing legal challenge of those fees.
Both the tone and the volume of the messages from industry leaders were combative and defiant. “User fees are really taxes,” said Ed Bolen, president of the NBAA. Bolen warned, “The ability to tax is the ability to destroy." Bolen sees a clear and present danger in that ability being shifted from elected officials, who are accountable to the public, to the non-elected bureaucrats. “These are dangerous precedents,” he warned, in clear reference to the FAA’s new fees on AirVenture and other airshows.
Speakers took on FAA inertia on a wide variety of topics, from reform of the requirements for pilot third-class medical certificates to aircraft certification. Outgoing AOPA president Craig Fuller related that FAA officials told him that reform of the medical, considered by some essential to keeping an aging pilot population flying, “was not a priority for us at the FAA.” Fuller called this “very troubling. We can’t keep going forward this way.”
“A number of agencies including the FAA have really lost the ability to control themselves,” observed Helicopter Association International (HAI) president Matt Zuccaro. “They are doing things they know they don’t have the authority to do and are taking the attitude “You are going to have to sue me to stop me but we are doing it.’”
General Aviation Manufacturers Association president Pete Bunce was particularly animated in his criticism of the FAA when it comes to new aircraft certification issues and agency “inertia.”
“It costs $50 million to $100 million to develop a new piston [engine powered] aircraft and so much of that is because of the FAA,” Bunce noted. This has a wide variety of adverse consequences, Bunce said, including a burgeoning number of airworthiness directives for older aircraft because “the aviation age of the [general aviation] fleet is 40 years old. They make it so hard to introduce new aircraft. This is all the FAA’s doing. If we don't get Congress to beat the FAA on the head and say ‘stop this madness,’ then we are going to stay in this downward cycle. My members are absolutely fed up with it.”