Why Did The FAA Declare War On GA?
Editorial/Opinion by J.R. Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief
There was a time in the "good old
days" when the FAA was not only supposed, but was mandated, to be a
close ally, (even a proponent) to all of aviation.
Congressional intervention and concerns about the FAA's objectivity
destroyed all that in the wake of an airline crash and the freakish
fallout that occurred, thereafter. To many in the world of
aviation, this was a mistake.
And, to those of us who understand how media and politics work a
little bit better than others (because of the fact that we are
involved in it each and every day), it was more than a mistake, it
was a sure path to disaster.
That is where we find ourselves today. An FAA, devoid of any
responsibility to promote or defend the industry it serves, appears
to have gone on the attack and threatens much of what aviators and
aviation professionals hold dear. Aero-News, unlike many of the
alphabet associations that have to work closely and kindly with the
FAA, finds itself in a position to have to speak out in a somewhat
unkind fashion. We've had a love/hate affair with the FAA for as
long as we've been in existence... we know well that the great
majority of the people within the FAA are great advocates for
aviation, true professionals, and lovers of the craft. However; the
organization itself, (that great monstrous machine created by Uncle
Sam), is not so kind and (today), not so professional. In what can
only be seen as a power grab and a political repositioning of
itself within the government structure, the FAA has decided to
shake up not only the way it is funded, but seems to be willing to
buddy up (like never before), with the almighty airline industry...
to the detriment of all else in aviation and aerospace.
I must admit to some
head scratching over all that has occurred. The FAA's rationale for
a new funding mechanism makes no fundamental sense, and numerous
industry experts on both sides of the equation have cast more than
sufficient doubt upon any changes in the current FAA funding
scenario. Too many see it as an accident waiting to happen.
Further; there is no question that despite the fact that the FAA
has an aggressive but yet unspecified agenda for a next-generation
air transportation upgrade, that the current funding system (and
the unquestioned growth that is expected to occur) has more than
sufficient resources to see the FAA through the process of
upgrading our, sadly, out of date air traffic system. Mind you, the
FAA has given us precious little detail on what a new air traffic
system will encompass. They've been short on detail, rarely answer
cohesive questions, and have left much of Washington scratching
their heads in bewilderment over what is, or is not, coming our
way. What everyone agrees with, though, is that we do indeed need a
significantly more modernized way to move air transport from
point A to point B.... and sooner or later, we expect the FAA
to have to deliver it. But... how?
More important, it behooves us to ask before the FAA shakes up
everything that we know... what the hell are they thinking?
The current strategy... whether you look at the proposals put
forth by the FAA or the supposedly kinder/gentler Senate proposal,
pose grave dangers to much of aviation. And while the current
Senate proposal is seen as less toxic to the general aviation
world, I must emphatically insist that all those in aviation who
may not necessarily be affected by this proposal be aware of the
cardinal rule of politics when it comes to user-fee/tax issues...
"just because they're not after you today, doesn't mean they won't
be after you tomorrow."
I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the FAA has lost
all sense of objectivity where this proposal is concerned. I
strongly believe that they have staked their reputation on seeing
some measure of this proposal approved, and that the political
destinies of many powerful people are linked to seeing this thing
rammed down our throats. It is obvious to virtually everyone we
have consulted, on both sides of the issue, that the airline
industry has had a powerful effect on FAA decision making. This is
an airline industry, of course, that has been in bankruptcy for
most of the last several years, and has decimated its ranks with
fraud, greed, misinformation, pension raids, employee abuse, poor
management, and constant requests for the American taxpayer to bail
them out of their many, self-inflicted, ills.
I simply do not understand how
anyone can give the airline industry any credibility after their
performance in the last few years. Even prior to 2001, the airline
industry has been characterized by periods of gross mismanagement,
and a growing dependence upon the government for handouts, special
treatment, favorable rule-making, and all manner of favoritism. The
industry can and will survive (and there are segments that do seem
to have much of their act together), but it's time for a little bit
of tough love, better management, and dealing with the stark face
of reality. Giving the airlines preferential treatment, decimating
much of general aviation (whom they apparently see as some type of
threat, for no known reason), and eventually giving them power in
FAA decision-making itself, clearly spells a doomsday scenario for
much of this nation's valuable transportation infrastructure.
No... I do not trust the airlines.
And, I do not trust the FAA.
What little credibility and trust I have been able to place with
them in the wake of 2001 has been virtually destroyed by some of
the most shoddy reasoning and decision-making I have yet seen.
Those of us in aviation who are opposing this current generation of
proposals, in whatever form they may be presented, need to stand
steadfastly together and resist all efforts to compromise. This is
one of those circumstances when compromise does us little or no
good. The inch we may give will grow to a yard in no time at all...
and get worse with each step.
Even if general aviation is not affected by upcoming compromise
proposals, we need to signal our intensive solidarity with the rest
of the aviation industry that may be under the microscope. The FAA
and airline industry's 'taking on' of business aviation, and
picking on those "fat cats in their business jets" is tragically
flawed and myopic thinking.
Business jets are not fat cat toys, they are tools of commerce.
They make money. They make opportunities. They grow the nation.
They produce progress, jobs, income, and prosperity for the world
around them. Yes, it's fashionable to poke fun at the big expensive
business jet, but the big expensive business jet is rarely abused,
and is (truly) only a pitifully small fraction of the general
aviation world. We need to do what ever it takes to stand together,
to display a solid and steadfast front to the world, to make our
case clear that all of aviation has value, and that all of aviation
requires that heretofore available government services continue to
be made available, and are modernized, within the present funding
structure. If not, we're going to lose an incredibly vital resource
while this nation and it's citizens, will suffer.
It is also time to get in the face of the FAA decision makers,
and their bosom buddies among the airline community, to let them
know that alienating the business and general aviation world can
and should have severe consequences. We need to make some examples
of some of the greediest and more flawed arguments and show any
entity that threatens the rest of aviation, that this industry will
not put up with it.
We can do this on a
number of scales... For instance, because of a speech given by
United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton (shown right) at the FAA Aviation
Forecast Conference a few weeks ago, and his mischaracterization of
GA as a bunch of Gulfstreams, I deliberately stood up and
questioned him about his rationale and his thinking. I pointed out
that most of GA does not fly a Gulfstream, I pointed out that
Tilton's desire to see us pay our "fair share" made no sense when
he was asking us to pay our "fair share" of a system that was
designed for his industry and the myriad extra services that were
made available to them, but are beyond our need or use. Finally, I
pointed out that his rationale for penalizing general aviation with
user fees was akin to asking "the canoe to pay to raise the
drawbridge." Tilton did not want to respond. Tilton copped out.
Tilton obviously had his mind made up and no amount of facts or
rationale were going to shake the hardened edifice of an opinion
based on self interest and greed.
As a result, I've struck back in my own way. Aero-News has not
booked a ticket on United Airlines since his comments. Over the
course of the next year I will be responsible for buying several
hundred airline tickets for my staff, and for my associated
businesses. Unless there is no choice, and I do mean NO CHOICE, it
will be a cold frigid day in hell, at high noon, at the height of
the summer season, before we book a ticket on United. I realize
that much of the airline industry shares his viewpoint... but
Tilton was the guy who got up on a podium and belittled a vast
segment of aviation with his misunderstanding, arrogance, and
factual misrepresentations. Let him pay for them and let him do so
without a dime of our money.
Folks... I've just come off one of the most extraordinary weeks
of my life. This week has been steeped in all segments of aviation
-- I flew in Zero Gravity (aboard a Boeing 727) with Professor
Stephen Hawking... I looped and rolled my Glasair III off the
Florida coast... I flew Cessna's new Citation Mustang... I checked
a buddy out in his new Mooney... I traveled a good deal on
America's airliners (NOT UAL) to get to and fro... and I got to do
a little bit of soaring in a sturdy old Grob Twin II Acro
sailplane. I loved and valued all the ways in which I
aviated... equally and for unique/important reasons. I have never
found any aspect of aviation to be any thing but synergistic with
the rest. There is equal value in all of aviation and we should
stand together, united, against all threats.
There should be no barriers, no
jealousies, no schism, no antagonism, no competition, and no lack
of support from one segment of aviation for another. I strongly
feel that horrible damage has been done to the entire aviation
industry by the fractious behavior of the FAA and the airlines, and
I dearly desire to return to the good old days when the FAA had a
responsibility to serve us, protect us, and speak of our value
(collectively) to the world. In the meantime, though, the FAA needs
to get off this ridiculous user-fee high horse, get back to
reality, and quit attacking those whom it needs to protect and
Until then, the FAA has broken faith with the world of aviation
-- and the aviators and aviation professionals who work and play
with it. We cannot let them continue in this path for long.
We either need a change of heart, or a change of
leadership, so that the FAA can once again return to being
a valued and trusted part of the aviation industry and an ally,
rather than what they are now... the distrusted enemy and foe of
much that we value. -- Jim Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief