FAA Has a User-Fee Bridge for Sale

By Robert Mark on April 25th, 2007

Henry Ogrodzinski thinks the FAA’s Valentine’s Day funding legislation is “a solution in search of a problem.” He’s the president and CEO of NASAO, the National Association of State Aviation Officials. We caught up with Henry O, as his friends know him, at the Texas Aviation Convention in Corpus Christi last week to talk about the bitter user fee fight that both business and general aviation have been sucked into against their well-armed foe, the U.S. airline industry.

Ogrodzinski and NASAO are founding members of the just announced Alliance for Aviation Across America, a 2,200 member group bringing new muscle to the user fee conflict on the side of business and general aviation. Other high-profile players in this alliance include Ed Bolen from NBAA, Phil Boyer from AOPA, EAA’s Tom Poberezny at EAA and Jim Coyne at NATA.

But Henry O was the man I came to talk to because he has the pulse of the local aviation manager scene. How can a general aviation David successfully fight back against an airline Goliath I wondered? A former director of public relations for EAA (you’ll find him inside the NASAO tent near the control tower at AirVenture every year), Henry O is a convincing speaker. He has one of those big wide smiles that makes people trust him immediately. And we can’t have too much of that right now.

Restating the Problem

It’s no secret that the future of U.S. business and general aviation is in serious jeopardy right now. Even non-believers sat up and took notice after last week’s media blitz from the Air Transport Association (ATA) that ended with an Associated Press story in hundreds of national and regional newspapers. ATA’s message was simple … general aviation is sucking the life out of the airline industry by not paying its fair share of ATC costs.

To the administration, headed by Marion Blakey at FAA, there is only one solution to the nation’s ATC woes. Build a new system and force everyone to help the airlines out of the hole they’ve managed to dig themselves into by levying fresh taxes against GA. Of course, the airlines seem to have forgotten the $5 billion that was doled out to them after 9/11, as well as another $10 billion in federal loan guarantees.

Since the Airway Trust Fund is going broke anyway, according to FAA, these new revenue sources will probably, maybe … almost positively solve all the system’s ills as the agency said in its Valentine’s Day love letter to Congress about funding.

Friends in High Places

Like me, Henry O believes the real fight should be focused on updating the ATC system, not creating another new unmanageable bureaucracy. The new FAA/airline proposal would also create an airline dominated agency to run the new ATC system. Guess where we’ll all end up with that bunch in charge?

Plenty of top notch people agree with NASAO’s position that a new funding system is unnecessary. “Dr. Gerald Dillingham from the Government Accountability Office for example. Then there’s the former DOT Inspector General Ken Meade and the current DOT IG, Calvin Scovel. They’ve all said the funding system is not broken,” Ogrodzinski said.

“Then there was the testimony of acting Congressional Budget Office director Donald Marron last September. He predicted that the current funding system is sufficient to handle FAA’s future expenses and the transformation of the system to the Next Generation ATC system. He thinks there may be as much as a $19 billion surplus of funds as well.”

Is it possible the White House and the administrator are trying to cleverly convince us to take our eye off the ball while they tinker in our pockets? OK, strike the word cleverly. The airlines see business and general aviation as a real threat to their livelihoods, so the fight is soon going to become much uglier than it is right now. But it’s our livelihoods on the line too.

Short-Term Thinking

Few people would have predicted that in 2007, one segment of aviation would be trying to have another for lunch, especially when the airlines need GA to backfill the pilot shortage that is already taking place around the world.

Before we broke for coffee, Henry O mentioned one important point to keep in mind during the fight. “Remember, it’s the administration we’re fighting here, not regular FAA employees who help us keep the system operating safely.”

And BTW, signing up for membership at the Alliance for Aviation Across America is a freebie. Just get click over and offer them a little help while you’re there.

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2 Responses to “FAA Has a User-Fee Bridge for Sale”

  1. Dave Koch Says:

    Rob,

    Those of us who have been in the aviation business since Wilber and Orville first broke the surely bonds have heard this story before. And of course we have to fight the ATA’s attempt to take over the ATC system. In fact, although I’m definitely against user fees, I believe the bigger threat is letting ATA get away with shouldering the FAA aside.

    I’ve already joined the alliance and emailed my Washington reps. I encourage everyone else who flies and/or manages general avaition aircraft to do the same.

  2. Rob Mark Says:

    Thanks Dave. I agree that one of the most understated threats is who controls the ATC system.

    And I encourage folks to call rather than write their legislators at this point.

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