POSITION & HOLD
an editorial opinion
Defending business aviation requires more than rhetoric
By Robert Poole
Dir of Transportation Studies, Reason Foundation
Panel of industry association leaders prepare to speak before the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation during a Feb 11 hearing for the FAA Reauthorization Act. Making up the panel are (L-R) NBAA Pres & CEO Ed Bolen, RAA Pres Roger Cohen, AOPA Pres Craig Fuller and Rockwell Collins Chairman Clayton Jones representing GAMA, ALA and ARSA.
And, since business and general aviation activity is also down, so are fuel tax revenues. FAA's budget is more or less a fixed sum of money. With Aviation Trust Fund revenue shrinking and the payroll portion (called "Operations" in budget language) increasing, the most likely account to be cut back is you guessed it, Facilities & Equipment.
A similar squeezing of F&E took place during the late 1990s as the then-new NATCA contract phased in, significantly increasing the payroll portion of FAA's budget. So this scenario is nothing new. My point is that unless some additional near-term revenue source is developed, a smaller share of the FAA budget will go for vitally needed capital investment in NextGen.
In the March issue of my ATC Reform News e-newsletter, I suggested one possible source. In 2007, the Senate Aviation Subcommittee proposed a $25 NextGen user fee for all IFR flights by turbine-powered aircraft (the GA-turbine category in the FAA cost allocation study).
As proposed then by Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the revenue stream from that $25 fee would be bondable by FAA, supporting up to $5 billion in revenue bonds for NextGen capital investment.
That money would be over and above the usual F&E allocation in FAA's budget. NBAA and other GA groups lobbied hard against Rockefeller's proposal, and eventually (last year) he let it drop. That was then this is now.
I think NBAA and the rest of the business aviation community should support the revival of this net new funding source for NextGen. There are 2 reasons for this. First, we now have a NextGen funding crunch that needs to be addressed in the 2009 FAA Reauthorization Bill.
An extra $5 billion in near-term NextGen investment would be an important step forward. Second, the business aviation community has a serious negative image problem. How refreshing it would be for this community to step up to the plate with a tangible gesture in the direction of paying more of its way (and helping to ensure that the benefits it wants and needs from NextGen arrive sooner than otherwise).
A fee of $25 per (IFR turbine) flight would barely be noticed by operators of business jets that cost $1500-3000 per hour to operate (and $2500-8000 per hour to own and operate). And since there are far more airline flights per day than bizjet flights, the airlines would end up paying the lion's share of these fees in any case.
Supporting the $25 NextGen fee would be a symbolically important step for NBAA and other business aviation advocates. It would make tangible their claim that business aviation is not a luxury but a necessity.
And that business aviation, far from being a marginal user of the system, is a vital and growing component of US aviation.
Robert Poole is director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation. He received a BS and MS in mechanical engineering at MIT and worked in aerospace prior to joining Reason in 1978.
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