Myths & Realities
February 12, 2009
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  • Debunking Frequent Misconceptions About General Aviation

    Here are some common myths and the true facts about general aviation:

    MYTH – All aircraft place the same costs on the air traffic control system.

    REALITY – The big airlines want you to believe that a four passenger turboprop and a 400 passenger 747 impose the same costs on the system and should pay the same amount in taxes. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has twice concluded that the commercial airlines drive the FAA’s costs through their hub operations at congested airports.

    MYTH – Small aircraft cause airport delays.

    REALITY – General aviation is not the cause of delays at our nation’s airports. At the top 10 busiest airports, small planes make up only 4% of traffic.[1] The Department of Transportation monitors delay statistics on a daily basis, and divides that data into five causes Ð none of which include general aviation. Over 50% of delays can be traced to airline over-scheduling and other poor business practices.[2] In 2007, airline over-scheduling was so extreme that the Department of Transportation investigated several airlines for purposeful “deceptive scheduling practices.”[3] Additionally, because general aviation aircraft tend to use different airports, they account for less than 5 percent of total operations at the nation’s 20 busiest commercial airports, and because general aviation aircraft tend to fly at altitudes above and below commercial airline traffic, they do not cause delays to commercial aviation.

    MYTH User fees are necessary for modernization of our air traffic control system.

    REALITY – Modernization of the air traffic control system is critical, but an overhaul of a successful funding system is not necessary to accomplish those goals. Budget documents show that the user fee scheme proposed by the commercial airlines would have actually CUT modernization funding by at least $600 million, and user fees would add unnecessary bureaucracy.[4] The Government Accountability Office and the Department of Transportation Inspector General have alsotestified to Congress that the current aviation tax structure is forecasted to raise enough revenue to cover the FAA’s anticipated modernization cost.[5]

    MYTH – Commercial airlines pay 94% of the taxes, yet only drive 74% of the costs. General aviation pays only 6% of the taxes, but drives 16% of the costs.

    REALITY – According to the FAA’s own documents, this is blatantly untrue. All U.S. passenger airlines combined only pay 77% of taxes, and Air Transport Association internal documents show that they only pay 74% [6]. FAA’s same documents show that general aviation pays 8.6% of taxes.[7] The big airlines’ assertion of costs driven by general aviation is based on a flawed cost allocation study that ignores established economic principles and is at odds with accepted international practices.[8]

    MYTH – Another bailout for the airlines would benefit consumers.

    REALITY Consumers would likely see no difference in their fares if the airline tax burden were lessened. In December 2006, a senior airline executive told a major newspaper that if their passenger tax expired, “Éwe could keep fares the same and make more money.” In 2004, the Government Accountability Office warned Congress that airlines generally profit from tax savings, rather than pass those savings on to customers, sometimes even raising fares.[10] Airline management and their lobbyists have even said publicly that they are looking to improve their bottom line through their unfair tax restructuring proposal.[11]

    MYTH Ð The Airport Improvement Program (AIP) unfairly subsidizes small and medium-sized public-use airports only used for general aviation.

    REALITY Ð The Airport Improvement Program (AIP) provides funding to public-use airports used by both general aviation and commercial airlines to build, repair, improve, and maintain essential airport components such as runways, taxiways, air traffic control towers, and other structures. These projects provide much needed jobs to rural communities and ensure that airports which have been identified through the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) as important to public transportation and the needs of civil aviation, national defense, and the Postal service, are ready for use by all sectors of the aviation community.

    MYTH Ð The Essential Air Service (EAS) program is an unfair subsidy to small airports.

    REALITY ÐMaintaining EAS funding is essential to ensure that rural Americans have access to commercial aviation when traveling or doing business in other parts of the country. The EAS program is a voluntary incentive for airlines to serve smaller communities, and is given by the federal government directly to the airlines that agree to serve the community. Without such subsidies, the residents of these communities would not receive any scheduled airline service, virtually cutting them off to resources and business tools.

    MYTH Ð General aviation is predominantly used by big companies and corporate CEOs.

    REALITY Ð Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, eighty-five percent of the companies and organizations that rely on general aviation aircraft are small-to-mid sized businesses which serve as a lifeline to small and rural communities across the country. General aviation serves medical personnel, construction companies, telecommunication providers, manufacturers, farmers and ranchers, and food suppliers and emergency and natural disaster responders. These aircraft operate in over 5,000 airports across the country that serve communities that the major airlines mostly ignore. [15]

    MYTH – Travel on small jet aircraft in the United States is exploding.

    REALITY – Flight hours on general aviation aircraft have held steady over the past several years while the commercial airline traffic at hub airports has exploded. [16]

    MYTH – General aviation security standards since 9/11 are not sufficient.

    REALITY – General aviation has worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to develop and implement a comprehensive security infrastructure for general aviation operations, including closely monitoring aircraft sales, checking all student pilots against government watch lists and continuously monitoring any suspicious activity through an Airport Watch Program. In fact, a June 18, 2009 report from the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security stated that “the steps general aviation airport owners and managers have taken to enhance security are positive and effective.”

    MYTH – Large aircraft are more environmentally friendly than small aircraft.

    REALITY – Commercial airlines have a much larger carbon footprint than general aviation planes, and EPA data states that commercial airlines account for 2% of total US greenhouse gas transportation emissions while general aviation and military planes account for only 0.4%.[18]

    [1] At the top 10 busiest airports in the US, FAA’s 2006 traffic count data for all towered airports shows that general aviation makes up less than 4.0% of all aircraft operations. FAA: OPSNET data for all towered airport operations in 2006.

    [2] The top reasons for airline delays, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), are extreme weather, security, aviation system congestion (which includes airline-related delays), late-arriving aircraft and airline-related problems. In April 2007, over 75% of delays were related to weather or airline-related causes. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes.

    [3] “[T]he Transportation Department says it’s launching an investigation into deceptive scheduling practices by some airlines, taking aim at carriers that operate chronically delayed flights without telling customers of the repeated problems…. The Transportation Department says it’s already in proceedings with eight airlines to assess whether they disclosed on-time performance statistics É The latest investigation would look at the larger question of whether airlines are presenting unrealistic schedules to passengers.” “Transportation department to probe airline delays,” Dallas Morning News, April 20, 2007.

    [4] Administration budget documents show that the new user fee scheme pushed by the FAA and backed by the major airlines would cut modernization funds by at least $600 million. The Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2008 Ð Appendix.
    The airlines’ insistence on changing the funding mechanism is nothing more than a flawed justification for a huge airline tax break. The Department of Transportation Inspector General recently testified to Congress that under the big airlines’ FAA plan, the airlines would decrease their tax burden from $11.8 billion to $10.1 billion in FY2009. FAA’s Financing Proposal, Statement of Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation, before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. House of Representatives, March 21, 2007.

    [5] The Department of Transportation Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have testified to Congress that Under the Current Excise Tax System, Forecasted Revenues into the Aviation Trust Fund could cover the FAA’s Anticipated Cost of $22 Billion in Modernization Spending for 2007 Ð 2025. Hearing, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. House of Representatives, March 21, 2007.

    [6] All U.S. passenger airlines combined pay only 77% of taxes into the airport and airways trust fund. “FY 2005 IRS-Certified Airport and Airway Trust Fund Tax Revenue,” FY05 FAA ATO Data Package.

    “[A]n internal Air Transport Association document obtained by The Hill indicates U.S. airlines paid about 74 percent of total contributions to the trust fund, and that the 95 percent figure comes only after taking foreign airlines and shippers such as FedEx into account.” “FAA’s air-traffic fee proposal sparks resistance,” The Hill, April 17, 2007.

    [7] General aviation currently contributes 8.6% of the taxes that flow into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. “FY 2005 IRS-Certified Airport and Airway Trust Fund Tax Revenue,” FY05 FAA ATO Data Package.

    [8] According to the Government Accountability Office and leading Transportation Economists, the FAA’s recent cost allocation study ignores established economic principles and is at odds with accepted international practices. GAO-07-773R: FAA Funding Comparison, U.S. Government Accountability Office, June 8, 2007; “FAA’s Cost Allocation Study Ð A Flawed Approach to Assigning Costs that Discards Mainstream Economic Fundamentals,” Michael W. Tretheway, Ph.D., InterVISTAS Development Economics, April 11, 2007.
    [9] H.R. 2881: FAA Reauthorization,

    [10] Any improvement following a tax cut would likely be to airline profitability, not passenger ticket costs. According to GAO studies, “During the 1996 ticket tax lapse and 2003 security fee holiday, carriers generally raised ‘base’ airfares (i.e., airfares net of taxes and fees) compared with what they were in periods before the absence of the tax or fee. The effect of this to consumers was to maintain or increase gross fares.” Summary Analysis of Federal Commercial Aviation Taxes and Fees, U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 12, 2004.

    [11] “Look, if our tax burden weren’t so high, there wouldn’t be as much pressure to raise fares,” [Airline Executive] said. “At the very least, we could keep fares the same and make more money.” “Airlines to lobby for revamp of FAA funding next year,” Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, December 26, 2006.

    [12] General Aviation Manufacturers Association:

    [13] Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act, Public Law 107-42

    [14] “Airlines’ Insurance Relief Stirs Administration Debate,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 2, 2002.

    [15] National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), 2007 Ð 2011, Federal Aviation Administration, September 29, 2006,

    [16] Total General Aviation and Scheduled Aircraft Movements 1997-2005 Federal Aviation Administration

    [17] Transportation Security Administration,

    [18] “Planes Fly More…Emit Less Greenhouse Gas” USA Today, 5/9/08