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Mon, May 07, 2007

Barnstorming: The FAA's User-Fee Stance Is An Attack On Us All

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 serve.

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

FMI: What Do You Think Of The FAA's Attack On General Aviation?

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