Washington, D.C. – Representatives from rural and agricultural groups, charitable organizations, community airports, as well as aviation professionals, local officials and small businesses today announced the formation of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a coalition formed to fight the commercial airline-backed "user fees" proposal to impose take hikes on small businesses and towns across America. The coalition members include the League of Rural Voters, National Association of State Aviation Officials, Air Care Alliance, National Farmer's Union, National Agricultural Aviation Association, the National Business Aviation Association, Angel Flight, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and hundreds of small and medium-size businesses from around the country.
"Our coalition is here to send a clear message to lawmakers that we stand united against a radical "user fees" proposal which would decimate businesses and communities around our country through a huge tax hike. This special interest legislation would benefit no one but the big commercial airlines," said Gene Wright, Mayor of Quinwood, West Virginia, pilot and coalition member.
The "user fees" proposal was introduced as part of the Administration's plan for FAA reauthorization, and would directly offset a multibillion dollar tax break for the airlines by imposing a new tax hike on general aviation: the businesses, organizations and farmers and ranchers that use small planes. User fees in Europe, where enacted, have become "suffocating and extensive," according to Carl Davis, coalition member and small business owner, and now include everything from pilot certification to safety-related weather checks. The administration proposal also includes a tripling of the tax on aviation fuel to $.70/gallon, up from its current rate $.19 on average.
The airlines' justification for this new tax is that somehow a small turboprop carrying three passengers imposes the same costs on the air traffic control system as a jumbo jet carrying 300 passengers even though all independent data show that it's the design of the airlines hub-and-spoke system that creates the bulk of the air traffic control costs.
"This hub-and-spoke network, which moves thousands of flights through big hub airports, particularly during peak hours, is what creates the demand for most of the staff and resources, including senior air traffic controllers and specialized equipment," according to Coz Passalacqua, pilot and coalition member.
Paradoxically, the major airlines insist that the proposal they back is critical for modernization, but seem to overlook the fact that it not only cuts the airline’s contribution to modernization efforts, but it slashes overall FAA funding by more than $600 million – funds that could otherwise be devoted to modernization efforts. "The system is not broken," said Chip Gibson, coalition member and Mississippi-based small-business owner, noting that the Airport and Airways Trust Fund (AATF) is generating record revenues, and that the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office have all testified before Congress that the current funding structure can support the estimated costs of modernization.
Members of the coalition also questioned whether user fees were really just a first step toward a highly controversial effort to privatize the air traffic control (ATC) system, reduce Congressional oversight, and give the airlines considerably more control over the day-to-day management of the system.
"We need to modernize our air traffic control system through full funding and accountability. Cutting $600 million in funding for our air traffic control system and levying billions in taxes on small towns and businesses is just wrong," said continued Wright, referring to the big airlines/FAA proposal.
According to numerous experts, the airline-backed proposal could impose severe economic hardship on the airports, small towns and communities which are served by the general aviation industry and largely ignored by the commercial airlines. "Community airports that serve small towns are critical to our security, our mobility during national emergencies, and to our local economies," said Niel Ritchie, president of the League of Rural Voters and coalition member. "General aviation is crucial for medical care, disaster relief, traffic enforcement on rural highways, wilderness search and rescue, and business growth for small communities. In fact, during Hurricane Katrina, when roads were often impassable due to heavy flooding, some 400 small aircraft evacuated around 23,000 people and delivered tons of supplies to relief workers in just five days."
"The airline-backed plan is a poison pill for rural towns and communities across America. This huge tax hike would ground many of these small planes and puddle jumpers that are the lifeline to these communities, impacting access to specialized medical care, disaster relief, and business resources," continued Ritchie.
The airline-backed FAA bill also slashes funding for the Essential Air Service Program and the Airport Improvement Program, and eliminates funding for the Small Communities Air Service Program, all of which are critical for the preservation of the airports. In fact, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee estimates that approximately 300 airports would lose their current grant funding under the new proposal.