Last week’s report from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, at first glance at least, looks like another nail in the coffin for business aviation. The DOT report – designed to show which aviation group actually uses how much of the nation’s airspace – claims to support the ongoing indictment by the Air Transport Association (ATA) that business aviation is clogging up the air traffic system. That should be pretty useful for the ATA since they’ve always accused business aviation of refusing to pay its fair share of the ATC system costs anyway. And somehow too, the airlines have tried to focus their passengers on this smoke and mirrors show.
But this DOT report also reminds me eerily of a discussion we had here just a few weeks ago about the General Accountability Office. Especially the part where you’ll learn that the DOT uses FAA data to support their conclusions, just as did the GAO. To speed your read here, I’ll remind everyone that the GAO faulted FAA for keeping lousy data. In a statement that should make everyone who reads this report sit up and take notice as the DOT admits, “We did not systematically audit or validate the data in any of the databases.” Nice to have data around to make major industry decisions, such as who will pay how much for ATC services, even if it is difficult to verify or simply flawed.
ATA certainly wasted no time developing a media release confirming the flawed government data that seemed to clearly feel vindicate their goal … to pay less than they pay now, much less.
Industry insiders might want to spend a little time reading through this DOT report because there are a few more things that don’t make sense either (no smart aleck comments … I know it’s the government).
First a bit of clarification as this user fee topic ramps up once again.
Business aviation has always said it was willing to pay a higher tax for it’s usage of the national airspace system. Open to debate, however, was the amount of the tax increase, as well as how the government would collect the money.
The debate became so silly at one point that the FAA’s plan to build another new government system simply to collect the tax was seen by all as a line in the sand, as was the attempt to link the debate to the real cost of ATC services. Perhaps I missed it, but has anyone ever seen any data that clearly explains the real cost of ATC service? Please send it along and I’ll post it here.
Why We Just Can’t Get Along
Everyone knows that one significant reason the airlines have been after business aviation is that they we make a convenient target to blame for their broken economic model. Business aviation has never claimed we are not a part of the congestion problem. We simply claim we aren’t as big a problem as the FAA and the airlines claim.
That line in the sand during earlier debates also brought aviation to blows with Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller who is still adamant about charging a $25 fee for each aviation operation – a takeoff and a landing – even thought the cost to collect the tax far exceeds the value it would bring the government.
That kind of inane talk only slows the real debate, as does this DOT report.
Early on in the document it becomes clear that the people who wrote it don’t understand aviation or are sub-par writers, or perhaps some of both. Or perhaps this is the DOT’s version of “garbage in garbage out,” because some of the explanations would be confusing to most. Here are few issues I pulled directly out of the text.
DOT claims that non-airline traffic uses more air traffic control tower services around the nation – 59 percent in fact – than the airlines, but somehow, the airlines use surprisingly more enroute ATC service than the non air carriers, nearly 90 percent.
In the another paragraph, DOT claims, “Business Jet NAS Usage is Considerable,” while in the next sentence they remark that, “FAA does not track business jets as a separate NAS user.” I think I’d call that a contradiction despite the methodology the department uses to try and explain it all.
The need to charge non-airline aircraft more than the airlines due to traffic volume is demonstrated by comparing Denver International with Centennial just south of DIA where there are “more operations than at New York JFK International,” or that “Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix had more tower operations than Orlando International or San Francisco International.”
They forget to mention that Centennial and Deer Valley have no airline traffic so what this has to do with the airline’s congestion problem is anyone’s guess.
About now, I realized the DOT IG’s “Use of the National Airspace System,” is one of those books that you just can’t wait to put down.
Perhaps somewhere inside there’s a good story, but the research and the conclusions are so flawed, no one will ever reach the end. And unfortunately, that isn’t going to solve the aviation system problem for the airlines or business aviation.