Ground Clutter

AAAE's F. Russell Hoyt National Airports Conference was held in New Orleans in mid-October. It's an informal, hard-working conference, and some say that if you wear a tie they will cut it off. I didn't test the theory.

The conference included an impressive array of speakers on subjects: Light Sport Aircraft (LSA); increasing revenue for airports; the effect of very light jets (VLJ); attracting new airline service; ground handling; and the obligatory and fascinating current big controversy - who should pay for rebuilding the FAA?

Those who have truly studied VLJs and LSAs seem to agree that both will have a big effect on the industry and provide a new source of airport revenue. Nobody, however, seems to believe that the change will be anywhere near the staggering predictions hyped by the manufacturers and the airlines.

I came away convinced that it's impossible for the VLJ manufacturers, in particular, to sell anywhere close to as many airplanes as they forecast, but they will indeed have a big impact on the industry. Likewise, airline predictions that VLJs will crowd them out of the sky are unlikely.

The FAA says they are ready for VLJs; no sweat. Some say the airlines just use the crowded-sky argument as a way to push for user fees.

Ah, those user fees. The argument revolves around two questions:

  1. Do we need to revamp ATC? and
  2. If so, who will pay for it?

Sharon Pinkerton of ATA claims the airlines pay 94 percent of the cost to use only 68 percent of the services. NBAA, AOPA, et al politely, but firmly, disagree.

About those LSAs: Nobody seems all that excited about light sport aircraft as a way to fly without a medical. Many do think that LSAs will become the trainer of the future, and will thus be important for many airports. That's the way Cessna sees it, too. Interesting. Nobody seems to think that LSAs will go away, fail to grow, or have little impact on the industry.

The argument now centers around who is going to use them and how? On the other hand, as with the VLJs, nobody seems to believe that market predictions by manufacturers will be met. In both cases, the opinion is that many manufacturers will fall by the wayside. The automobile industry was like that back when the Essex, Pierce Arrow, Stutz, Mercer (and later the Packard, Studebaker, and Hudson) all predicted wild growth.

James F. Bennett, Metropolitan Washington (DC) Airport Authority, came flat out with a strong statement on another quite controversial subject, saying that we need to open up airline ownership to foreign investors. He points out that we have foreign investment in other major industries, and need it in aviation.

I agree. Market globalization is not only here to stay, it is growing rapidly at an ever-increasing rate. Any attempt to buck that growth seems doomed to failure.