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Editorial: All flights not created equal
October 3, 2011
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    September 30, 2011

    It was perhaps good politics for President Barack Obama to characterize general aviation airport users as corporate jet passengers and to try to sock it to the supposed fat cats with a $100 per flight air traffic control fee.

    After all, these business bigwigs, they deserve to pay more, right? A lot of folks would say so.

    Problem is, what’s good politics and what’s good policy aren’t always the same. In this case, the details tell a bit of a different story: Not everyone who uses a general aviation airport is a fat cat, and businesses and their employees could be affected if the president’s plan is approved.

    Not mincing words, John Trissel, manager of Eagle’s Nest Airport here, said, “If we have any more loss of business É we’re very concerned about being able to keep the airport open.”

    The $100 fee would generate an estimated $11 billion over 10 years, which would cover three-fourths of airport investments and air traffic control system costs. It was proposed based on the notion that the fuel tax general aviation users pay doesn’t cover their fair share of air traffic services.

    A spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association told the Daily Press this week that it is true that that tax isn’t providing sufficient revenue but that the industry disagrees on how much of a gap exists.

    The group supports increased fuel taxes because the rate has not changed since 2007, spokesman Chris Dancy told the Newport News newspaper. However, adding the $100 fee would open the door to future levies, Dancy said.

    “We do recognize the deficit is a significant issue and there is going to have to be some contribution from virtually every segment of the economy,” he said.

    Another industry group of which AOPA is a member says general aviation is responsible for more than 1.2 million jobs and $150 billion in economic impact across the country. In Virginia alone, the Alliance for Aviation across America says, general aviation contributes $728 million and 38,744 jobs to the state’s economy.

    Those obviously aren’t small numbers. And the industry has felt the pain of the recession like other sectors, laying off tens of thousands of workers nationwide recently, according to the alliance.

    So representatives of 77 localities in 44 states, including Franklin Mayor James P. Councill III and Petersburg City Manager William Johnson III, seem correct in issuing a joint letter to Obama, noting that most folks who use general aviation aren’t “wealthy CEOs.

    “Rather, 85 percent are small to mid-sized businesses and organizations that rely on these aircraft to reach far-off plants and customers, serve rural markets without access to commercial aviation or deliver medical care and other services.”

    And there’s another problem with this plan. Places such as Waynesboro are trying to attract new companies that can bring jobs to the area. So, in a sense, we should all want CEOs to be flying into Eagle’s Nest, or to Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave, because that means they might be scouting out the region for possible location here.

    Figuring out how to fix our nation’s finances will require work, and some of it is sure to be painful. But this particular proposal needs to be grounded.

    Date: 2011-09-30