Why A Simmering Battle Between GA And The Airlines Could Mean
By ANN Senior Editor Pete Combs
Read Part One
If you sense a battle looming between the airlines and
proponents of general aviation, AOPA President Phil Boyer says
you're not wrong.
"The airlines are at the bottom of an economic pit," Boyer told
ANN. "Was it 9/11/01? Probably not. That probably accelerated their
Depending on who you ask, that condition is either very serious
or even critical. The director general of the IATA said earlier
this week that, worldwide, airlines have lost upwards of $35
billion dollars since terrorists used commercial aircraft to attack
That's why Boyer thinks the airlines, like wolves in the dead of
winter, are scouring the countryside, looking for anything that
will sustain them. But, he said, don't blame 9/11.
"It was probably high salaries, consolidation of routes, low
cost carriers..." all those things, he said, probably contributed
more to the current fiscal distress suffered by legacy carriers
like United and US Airways.
So, in their desperate efforts to improve the bottom line, Boyer
said, the airlines are looking to shift some of the cost for
America's air transportation network onto General Aviation.
"Their (the airlines') claim is, 'we pay 90-percent of the cost
for operating the air traffic system and we aren't 90-percent of
the users. There are other users out there who we subsidize.
"And you know," he continued, "to some extent, they're
Okay, we'll wait a moment for those who've fainted to
"When they say, 'WE pay,'" Boyer continued, "they [the airlines]
don't pay. I don't see the captain sitting up in the left seat
getting his credit card out to pay the bill for that flight. I see
him turning around and looking back at 200-300 passengers who have
a 7.5-percent tax added to the price of their ticket. THAT'S who
GA doesn't have that
luxury, Boyer told ANN. "When I'm sitting in the left seat of my
Cessna 172, I don't turn around and see anybody behind me paying
the tax when I buy my fuel."
But that aside, Boyer said, he agrees -- the airlines do pay for
some services that General Aviation pilots use. Then again...
"Air traffic service," Boyer said. "Do we need Class B airspace
if there were no airlines? Absolutely not. It's there for the
airlines. We're an incremental user. Is that control tower at the
airport there for GA or for the airlines? I could go on and on. I
think that debate is going to fall down to that kind of level."
Still, like it or not, Boyer believes there will come a day when
GA pilots will indeed have to reach into their pockets to fund
their own air travel. "So what services do we truly use -- just us?
And when I say 'just us,' I don't even mean business jets. I mean
Boyer explained that his concept of personal aviation has a lot
to do with the pilot whose car has a license tag that says, "My
Other Car Is An Airplane." You know, the guys who generally fly low
and slow. So what services does that person use?
"Flight services. That's one thing. That's why, historically,
AOPA has been on the side of (NAATS -- the flight specialists'
union), on the side of protecting Flight Services."
That, however, does
that square with AOPA's support for handing the operation of
FAA Flight Service to private contractor? Earlier this year, the
FAA contracted with Lockheed-Martin to operate FSS and run it like
a private enterprise. Wait, said Boyer. The costs associated with
Flight Services were getting out of hand. "$600 million. $27 every
time you call to get a briefing and it would be $40 if it wasn't
offset by DUATS, costing only $2.00. That's just absurd. And we
were headed towards getting charged for that stuff. So we supported
The result? Boyer pointed to Lockheed plans for state-of-the art
equipment and facilities, saying pilots, in the long-run, will
benefit greatly from handing FSS to Lockheed. "And it will save --
save -- $2.2 billion over ten years. So here we are, holding our
hand up and saying, 'we supported this."
Is the FAA setting general aviation up to pay user fees? Without
a doubt, Boyer told ANN. "I think the federal government is
bewildered by what it sees as a financial catastrophe out into the
future -- IF all kinds of scenarios develop. I've never seen this
kind of orchestrated approach."
Indeed, when asked about a recent NATCA study that
found the FAA is manipulating the ratio of infrastructure and
operational costs in such a way that the Aviation Trust will
dwindle to crisis levels by 2007, Boyer said he, like NATCA study
author Ruth Marlin, believes the FAA is creating a crisis to help
bail out the airlines.
"In the end," Boyer concluded, "This is something Congress is
going to have to decide." And if there's one thing AOPA is
especially good at, it's getting pilots' opinions before members of