FAA user fees, differences between McCain and Palin

ts interesting to note the differences of opinion over FAA user fees. From MPR: News Cut: Blaine setting for Palin speech highlights a difference with McCain

Senator McCain…. “I wanted to get at, which we should get at, the wealthiest people in America who are flying corporate jets around this country and not paying an extra penny for doing so, while average citizens, average middle income, lower income American citizens are paying, again, an increase in their cost of air tickets, while your fat cat friends pay nothing. ”

McCain stressed that user fees would only apply to business aircraft. The general aviation interests insist that a user fee-funding system would only expand.

Gov. Sarah Palin…..signed a resolution in Alaska in 2007 that opposed “the enactment of the provisions in the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007 that impose user fees, increase aviation fuel and aviation gas taxes, reduce airport funding, and reduce Congressional oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“Aopa… says the surplus in the Aviation Trust Fund, paid for by taxes on general aviation fuel, airline passenger tickets, and cargo, should be used instead, and argues that the skies will be less safe because pilots won’t use air traffic control and other services designed to keep flying a relatively safe exercise.”

Indeed, I think this is a safety issue. GA pilots are cheap, and will do pretty much anything to save a buck, esp when they figure it cant happen to me. 25 years ago when I worked on GA airplanes, man the stories I could tell. As a flight instructor for nearly 20 years, my mechanic experience was continually reinforced. If pilots start having to pay for services, its likely the vast majority will choose to not use them, and safety will be affected. Its not unlike the reluctance of pilots to declare an emergency… with the end result being a crash and potential loss of life, and thats over the paper work burden. Imagine if they had to spend $25 to do so…. Declaring early brings a wealth of resources, waiting until the end, it can be too late, and or the number of remaining options end up being severely limited.

Now, some might say, pilots need to take responsibility…. ie if you go cheap, and something happens, its your problem. The issue is, things dont operate in isolation and the public is affected. A runway closure due to a crash can put an airport out of service for hours, if not days of reduced capacity. A search and rescue effort costs tons more than a weather briefing. A midair is a lot more expensive than a years worth of flight following/radar services. to say nothing of loss of life.

The other issue is FAA services for the most part are a fixed cost. Ie, once weather services, air traffic control, and airports are in place… they are fixed costs pretty much with the exception of usage. The exception being peak hours at busy airports and terminal areas where additional technology and staffing are needed. Yet for the vast majority of airspace, and airports the costs are pretty much fixed. Since the largest user base contributing to the peak times are the airlines, it only makes sense they should cover a majority of the costs. Now, whether the 97% figure is the appropriate number, that’s another story entirely.

Granted… McCain states this would be for business aircraft only, but just as the NRA is against some seemingly reasonable restrictions as concerns gun control… its not the initial concept as presented, its the slippery slope which can lead to huge problems later on which is the issue. The last thing general aviation needs is a user fee taked onto small training aircraft, which likely would increase operational costs by 30-50%, to say nothing of the negative safety aspect. Sure, a lost flight student is going to use ATC services… but again, some ATC radio help is a ton cheaper, than the manpower, fuel, and aircraft needed in the event search and rescue is needed.

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