Business & General Aviation: Letters Can’t do it all

By Robert Mark on September 23rd, 2009

USA Today Jetwhine Even for me, this whole business aviation as the bad guy thing is becoming pretty tiresome. How much longer can most of our industry sit back and take it before we evaporate?

In last week’s USA Today article about Aviation Trust Fund dollars being rudely sucked away from big airports to keep podunk runways usable, the Air Transport Association again portrayed itself as the White Knight, the vanguard of a movement for truth justice and the American way, all focused on their altruistic need to save the taxpayer from the skullduggery of those non-airline airplane operators … that would be us of course. NBC aired a companion piece. Heck, almost like the stories were well … you know, coordinated or something. Where could they have come up with that idea?

Oh Paaaleeeze!

The response was predicable with Jim Coyne of NATA writing a Letter to the Editor castigating them for a “poorly researched … misleading” story that of course completely ignored how many of those airplanes at smaller airports that often receive grant money from the fund, helps keep those pesky little business and general aviation airplanes away from the big airports.

NBAA President Ed Bolen wrote one too. It said the USA Today piece was “one sided … lacking in balance … a gross misrepresentation of the value of general aviation public use airports …” Both leaders are right of course. Obviously too, ATA never read the piece of research from Oxford Economics and released by the U.S. Travel Association that points to the value of business aviation.

So what’s my beef? Simple. Too many NBAA and NATA members – and plenty of AOPA members too I’ll bet – assume that with Jim and Ed on the job, not to mention a dedicated staff of association types, we can all sleep easier while they fight the battle … and it has become a battle in case you haven’t been paying2000lx_5a attention.

Looking at the USA Today piece now, a week later, I see 721 comments, a tidy little sum for any news story. After reading dozens and dozens of the comments at USA Today, I didn’t see one letter from the American Association of Airport Executives, or even an airport manager trying to set the record straight. Why not? I’ll tell you why not, because we’re not well organized enough to do battle with an association like ATA … at least not yet.

Let’s review. The associations can’t fix our problems. Only we the members can. NBAA and NATA can help, but we need to do the leg work because our associations don’t have the millions ATA gets from the likes of United, Delta and American. And we’d better start right now because business and general aviation are playing way too much defense to suit me. ATA comes after us on user fees and the associations start writing letters. Did that effort change perceptions? Barely.

But remember when TSA came after GA earlier in the year with the new large-aircraft security proposal? Some 7000+ comments later, TSA backed off.

John and Martha jetwhine So I’m sitting here at my desk trying to imagine why association members still think staff should handle the dirty work. Then I saw the John and Martha video. While certainly designed to capture an audience for their seminar at NBAA, one everyone thinking about buying a jet SHOULD attend, it is also a succinct political call to action. Why? Because John and Martha are saying the same thing we’ve been saying for years. Members need to make it happen. Although well intentioned, associations don’t have the staff anyway. And besides, folks on the Hill expect the associations. They don’t expect us, pilots, airport managers, business owners and air traffic controllers.

What do we do Next?

Check out today’s papers and you’ll see our model for success, the Flyers Rights crowd run by Kate Hanni. While I don’t agree with everything she says philosophically, you can’t knock the fact that Hanni has managed to organize people on the Hill like no one else in this industry in recent memory. The tarmac legislation is just inches from passing. We need to do the same thing Mr and Mrs. airport manager.

Grass roots organizations can work if people are motivated. I remember when I interviewed Hanni a few years ago. I was the 15,000th person to sign her petition. Now she has 27,000. Trust me. Twenty seven thousand people focusing on anything gets attention.

BTW Mr. May

You may have heard that ATA is worried that passing the Flyers Rights legislation will have unintended consequences for airline passengers. Wait until more small airports shut down because of this kind of shooting-themselves-in-the-foot ATA strategy. I think I’d call more business airplanes trying to land at MSP, ORD, ATL, DFW, DIA and IAD some unintended consequences too, wouldn’t you. So Mr. May, be careful what you wish for.

Perhaps it’s time to start giving the ATA a little taste of business aviation airport support, Flyers Rights style, as if our industry’s survival really depends on us. Difference might be that I don’t think we need to be offensive to go on the offensive. Bet I can convince John and Martha. Who else?


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24 Responses to “Business & General Aviation: Letters Can’t do it all”

  1. Chad Says:

    Rob, operators could also try a tactic from the groups that sought to repeal the 55 mph speed limit. Remember when they used to band together and go riding down the highway in both lanes in protest going no more and no less than 55 mph? It infuriated the rest of the drivers since they routinely traveled above 55 but couldn’t because of the protest. It certainly got the group’s point across, prompting the heretofore uninterested citizens to take up the anti-55 mph cause, too. In case you haven’t noticed, 55 mph is no longer the speed limit in the U.S.

    If business aircraft operators banded together and converged on a busy, but non-slot-required, airline airport at a set date and time, it would cause MASSIVE gridlock for the airlines. Imagine what would happen at LAX or DFW if we made such a bold move. But be sure someone remembers to call the press just before the chaos breaks out so the cameras and reporters can document what would happen at airline airports if the smaller GA airports were to close.

  2. Bill Palmer Says:

    oooh, I really like Chad’s idea!

    From another article I read, I think ATA’s argument was that the fund was funded with Airline ticket tax money – and should therefore all go to airports that airlines use (forgetting to mention the fuel tax paid by general aviation).

    Does anyone have a breakdown of revenue source (airline/non airline) vs expenditure (big airport/ little airport) (taking out money spent on things like enroute navaids that all airplanes use.) I think it would be fair to know that before either side whining that they are supporting the other.

  3. annonymous Says:

    1. The aviation alphabets have been asleep at the wheel while ATA out-strategizes them over and over again. Remember the issue two years ago when ATA wanted to keep GA out of so-called “commercial airspace,” (which James May was unable to define when asked about it in public forums).

    And the “Edna” commercials. This was a fine example of ATA developing a strategy to serve its members’ interests and of the aviation alphabets’ complete inability to craft a long-term strategy and always reacting to events.

    Now comes the little-airport imbroglio, and what happens? Again, our aviation groups lash out.

    Why don’t NBAA, NATA, GAMA, AOPA et al come up with a strategy to out-maneuver the ATA instead of just reacting to each battle?

    2. Where does Jim May think all his members’ airline pilots come from? The military? About 30 percent at last count. The majority, more than two-thirds, come from general aviation, and they learn to fly at…little airports!

    Go ahead and legislate, tax, and destroy those little airports, Mr. May, and then don’t come complaining to us when your pool of (oh so cheap) pilots dries up.

  4. Robert Mark Says:

    Chad’s points are well taken. Let’s be serious. We business aviation types have become so adept at keeping a low profile that no one knows who we are.

    Why should we expect the reactions from the public to be anything other than what we’ve seen. If I were the director of communication at ATA, I’d be telling Jim May to exploit that weakness too because it does says a good job of getting people to focus somewhere other than on what a lousy job of customer service the airlines really do.

    The Flyers Rights folks though have done a pretty nice job of stirring the pot. They sure have ATA on the run.

    But that’s because so many people have experienced being stuck on a ramp. Few have been in a business airplane because we do such a good job of keeping a low profile …


  5. Phil Corbett Says:

    This is an easy one. Just don’t buy USA Today if you ever have….stop and encourage friends to stop…if it is available at your airport for sale and you do not have to offer it…don’t. They may have done this to increasee circulation.

  6. Francisco Parada Says:

    To all whom have written replies:

    You’ve got me all amped up… So I read through everything, but no mention of what I can do to help. So please… enlighten me. I want to act against these ignorant fools, but I don’t know where to start. Please, by all means, shoot me an email: cisco (at) abitofthisabitofthat (.) com

    Thank you, let’s Advance and Conquer.

  7. Glenn Says:

    No letters from the American Association of Airports Executives (AAAE) does not surprise me. While AAAE is one of the two large airport advocacy groups their leadership is made up of managers and executives from commercial service airports. If funding were cut from GA airports, that money would end up at their airports.

  8. terry tyler Says:


  9. Bruno Schreck Says:

    In response to Bill Palmer’s request for data:
    Here’s what USA Today said:
    “Since the Airport Improvement Program began in 1982, $15 billion — about a third of the money collected for the program — has gone to the smaller airfields with no scheduled passenger flights, according to a USA TODAY analysis published last week. By contrast, the nation’s 30 largest airports, which enplaned more than 500 million passengers last year alone, got about $13 billion.”
    “At the start of this decade, Congress reworked the airport program to steer more money to the 2,834 smaller fields, which handle only “general aviation.”

    And here’s the response I posted there:
    Using your articles’ own numbers the Airport Improvement program seems like a good thing, regardless of your distorted arguments. Here’s the math: $15bill. distributed over 2834 airports versus $13bill. distributed over 30 airports. On average that’s $5.3mill. to each small airport vs. $433.3mill. to each large airport. On a per airport basis, small airports get only 1.2% of what large airports get. And those large airports get 82 times as much as the small airports. So where’s the problem.
    To open a side issue: Why is it postulated that the problems in the transportation system are solely solvable by large airpot improvements? Isn’t it more related to competition between airlines and their poor financial condition? And wouldn’t improving more smaller airports relieve some of that competition at the larger airports?

  10. Rodolfo Martinez Says:

    I believe we have to point out the relationship between our right to freedom of living and transit, with our cars and aircraft.

    We should correlate the public roads, highways and interstates that most of us use for our cars, to General Aviation Airports and Aircraft.

    We can drive our own cars, whenever we want to wherever we choose, we should be able to do the same with flying.

    If we don’t defend our rights and support these General Aviation Airports and General Aviation as a whole, we may later be driven of the roads and highways and only be allowed to ride in public and commercial transportation.

    The taxes that are paid through fuel purchased for cars and General Aviation Aircraft should be enough to pay for the infrastructure that we use.

    Most of the cost of the roads and Airports is for the additional reinforcement and runway size needed for the weight and size of the Big Commercial Truck, Buses and Airline Aircraft.

    We in General Aviation do not fly legs of our trip to hub airports just to consolidate the people and freight, fuel permitting we usually fly point to point, from origin to destination. On the other hand Airlines take people to Airports they do not need to go, with the additional traffic that this involves, doubling or tripling the number of takeoffs and landings on bigger airports.

    The same Airline people and crewmembers, that defend only their right to use the airspace and airports, for sure would object if they were not being allowed to use their personal transportation to go to and from work, and drive to and when they please, because that is less efficient in the number of people transported or freight carried.

    On intersections in roads similar to hub airports, an improper design will make the traffic cross multiple times the same intersection to head onto their desired direction, sometimes up to three times, thus creating unnecessary additional cost and delays.

    We in General Aviation have a right to “Freedom of Airspace”.

    Fight for fair and just treatment of People and General Aviation.

    Stop the Bullying from the Airlines towards General Aviation.

    Thank you,

    Capt. Rodolfo F. Martinez

  11. George Daniels Says:

    I am a private pilot with IFR/multi rating. I started my flight training at 49 and completed it by 50 and have taken continued education and IFR training to improve my flying and to have better safety knowledge and experience for me and my passengers.

    I use my license and plane in my business, which has improved my ability to purchase materials and work further out of town by being able to supervise jobs more efficiently via small airports.. there is no way I could have built my business in the past 10 years from 1 million to 5 million in sales had it not been for making shorter time out of my presences to help crews and build trust with clients, who are just looking for better follow up and timely responses to meet their needs.

    Without small airports my travels and time would have greatly reduced my ability to physically accomplish these goals for our company. The improvements of these small airports are needed to provide safety and increased operations that we in general aviation are in need of. sure this economy has slowed us down some, but who hasn’t been slowed down. but it is also very apparent even in these slower periods of the use and need that we need to do to upgrade small airports and educate more of the community that these airports matter.

    Thanks for the time you have given me to respond to this importand issue facing us currently. we need not to forget the use of general aviation in our smaller communities to keep them connected to competitive pricing from outside contractors that can save dying communities because services have gotten too expensive.. we cannot all live or even want to live in large communities/towns etc.

    This is America not a third world country. Freedom is still what sets us apart from other countries and nations or have you forgot what price we have paid to be free? take away the small airports and you take away the competitive edge of competition and access to the our out laying communities.

  12. Robert Mark Says:


    We’ve had some great comments here so far. But yours is one of the best because it is the question that’s on the tip of so many people’s tongues.

    It is the one that AOPA, EAA, NBAA and NATA need to answer. How do we mount an offense against an opponent as powerful as ATA and the interests it represents.

    I’m going to start making a few suggestions here soon. The simple answer to your question is that we object to ATA and its tactics and the bad publicity they’re dumping on us one person at a time.

    That’s one person saying enough.

    One person convincing one more person who convinces one more to say enough and that it’s time to stop talking about the value of our GA airports and begin acting like we really believe in the words.


  13. Greg Lane Says:

    Why in these encomic times do we need to attack the industry that is working with little government involvement. The New piece on the small business in just another attack that needs to turn towards bigger government rather than small business. In some cases the local airport is a life line to the outside world.
    Please send your time looking at waste in the bigger items in government so we can correct them rather than focusing on the little items that are poorly researched and slanted based on public opinion. Work or solving issues rather than making them up there seems to be enough to go around.

  14. Gary Read Says:

    OK, these are all great sermons being heard only by the choir. Who among you is an association leader that can reach out to large numbers of airport managers and request banning USA Today deliveries on the same date (make the unsold inventory & cancellation calls more noticeable).
    I am going to AOPA for help using those fellow members to send press releases to their respective comunity papers pointing out the uses & value of their home airport. Point out that this is one of non-33 big airports that USA Today claims their community is not paying their fair share in spite of the fact of substantial fuel taxes and other federal tax revenue generated by economic turnover commerce made posible by a network of airports including theirs.

  15. Tim Says:

    Why don’t we copy the article and the NBC story, and send it to every Textron, Piperworker etc., with the heading that ATA, USA today, and NBC really would be ok with you losing your job.


  16. Sipilot Says:

    I will admit it is becoming more imperative I / we act on these attacks. I rely on general aviation as a pilot and as an employee of a large manufacturing company whose core business is components for GA aircraft. Jobs have been lost because of the slow down and govt attacks at our facility. I have relied on the alphabet organizations to respond for me, but I will be lobbying my local government and flying more than I have in the past. I will not be reading USA today and will get my news elsewhere. More so because of the poor balanced reporting and the one sided story. We can handle the critism of our GA community when it is a balanced arguement and the flying public can make educated decisions. Lets all educate them !!

  17. John H Says:

    USA Today and the rest of the mainstream media need to leave GA alone and concentrate more on harmful issues such as ACORN and those persons with communist ties and criminal records that were chosen to advise Obama. I/we rely on General Aviation for both business and pleasure. Smaller airports afford people like me a stress free airspace for safer, less crowded air navigation in these stressful and economically tight times.

  18. Craig Wiggen Says:

    The general public has no idea of the value of smaller general aviation airports. Maybe some light should be shed on how it can impact their lives should they be abandoned. The media has given GA a black eye by stereotyping pilots as fat cats with nothing better to do with their money. I fly out of a small GA airport and I can think of a few instances that truly benefited the community. One was during the fires of 98 when our field was closed and used as a command center for over 50 aircraft to battle the wildfires. Had we not had our airfield the loss of property and damage would have been much greater due to traveling longer distances to fight the fires.

    A friends wife was killed in a car accident. She had wanted to be an organ donor. That night the small airfield had 2 Lears and a Baron that picked up the organs flew to other locations which some were probably small GA airports. These organs were then given to waiting recipients. This may not have ever been possible without the proximity of a smaller GA airport. The window of opportunity is very small and seconds can make the difference of a successful transplant or a missed opportunity. How about the Angel Flights that are being made from these airports. What about the relief help for Katrina victims to smaller GA airports. The public needs to be made aware of the importance of GA airports.

  19. Robert Mark Says:

    As Craig said, most people do not understand the value of their local airports.

    The problem we face is that the ATA – and their clients the airlines – are willing to spend huge sums of money to make their point, in this case that we’re sucking the big airports dry.

    GA doesn’t have the same budget, even NBAA and NATA.

    Now if the Airport group, AAAE would stand up for GA airports the way they do the large air carrier airports and all these groups and their members worked together I think we could pull this off.

    Alone, we stand little chance.

    And to John who wondered why they don’t just leave GA alone, I can only say that life has a funny way of working out.

    But I can tell you that if we continue to keep a low profile, we’re all going to pay the price, one more airport at a time.

    Rob Mark

  20. John L. Wagner Says:

    Working in the aviation industry for over 40 years, of which 25 was with the State of Michigan’s Bureau of Aeronautics, I had many occasions to deal with public and privately owned airports and flight operations.

    One of the more interesting stories was that of Genova Products of Davison, Michigan. They were the developers of PVC pipe. In a telephone conversation many years ago with the CEO and founder (whose name escapes me), he related to me the difficulty in establishing their product as a standard in the plumbing and housing industry. It was necessary to achieve acceptance by the multitude of governmental entities, especially those establishing building codes.

    To achieve this necessary objective, they purchased a MU-2 and even built their own airport (Davison, Genova Airport). They then undertook the scheduling, picking-up and transporting (by air at their local airports) the many local and state officials to their manufacturing and testing facility and established an acceptance and code by which PVC pipe has become a standard nation-wide.

    Would anybody care to speculate the financial impact this company has had on our country by virtue of the company airplane and the local GA airport?

    I challenge USA Today and NBC to contact Genova Products and cover the role and impact that this one company alone had on our society. And, they are just one of many such situations. Step up folks and do your job, just don’t sensationalize! That would be true reporting!!

  21. Ernest Kaiser Says:

    My aviation career began in 1948 when I rebuilt a Continental O-200 to be used on a powered ice boat. At that time I also entered Aero Mechanics High School at Detroit’s City Airport.

    In 1952 I completed all of the requirements for graduation except several A&E (then) courses so I made a deal with the Principal Mr. Abrahamson which was I was entering the Air Force and would complete my ‘shop’ courses there. I went to Reciprocating Engine Mechanics School at Sheppard AFB in Texas where I scored the highest grade recorded to that time, the summer of 1953. I was allowed to pick my station and chose Charleston Muncipal Airport as it was becoming a brand new air base for the 456th Troop Carrier Wing. The Wing eventually completed it’s move from Miami International Airport, where they had been ‘lost’ by the Army Air Corps for years. Meanwhile, a friend, Fred Jensen and I, bought a 1946 Ercoupe with the intentions of rebuilding it. After the AirForce destroyed the wings, we sold the plane at small loss.

    I graduated from Aero Mechanics in 1953, along with my classmates who were actually attending the school in Detroit. In 1956 after an honorable discharge, I went back to Detroit and went to work at Chrysler Missle Operations, in final test and checkout.

    I worked on the Redstone and Jupiter programs. In the summer of 1957 I decided to take a trip to Alaska and drove the famed Alcan Highway, 3,500 miles of dust, rocks, mud or any combination of the three. I ended up going to work as a patrolman for the Fairbanks City Police Department. In 1958 I began taking flying lessons at FlightWays on Phillips Field. I soloed in Feb 1959, by which time I was working at the Geophysical Inst. of the Uni of Alaska in upper atmospheric physics.

    I became a career student pilot, obtaining my private in June of 1968. In 1988, after a hop from Fairbanks to Fiji (4 years) to Phoenix (1 year) to Tokyo (1/2 year) to Europe (2 years) I formed a company back in Phoenix, AZ, Capital Improvement Associates, Inc. which was a project development and management company. In 1989 we obtained a contract to manage the grants, design and construction of an entirely new airport at Lake Havasu City, Az. After about a year of driving back and for the the 300 mile round trip PHX-LHC, I bought a 1968 Piper Arrow 180 and began flying the trip.

    I successfully built the airport under budget and within the schedule by means of the FAA AIP and State of Az Airport development grants.

    I have flown to the new airport over 100 times and have watched the growth of general aviation with this new facility. I know the residents of LHC are well pleased with their airport. It has impacted all manner of life and commerce in Havasu.

    Wow, it got long!

    Ernest Kaiser
    1156 E. Cochise Dr
    Phoenx, AZ 85020-1550
    Tel 602-944-8017

    I closed CIA Inc 5 years ago, but would still be happy to act as a consultant to a GA airport.

  22. Episode 66 - Chocolate Thunder | Airplane Geeks Podcast Says:

    […] Business & General Aviation: Letters Can’t do it all […]

  23. Chad Says:

    Rob, I have another provocative suggestion. What if a charter or jet-card company offered a a 10-hour jet card/block time in a contest for the worst business travel experience on the airlines? When they choose the winner, that charter/jet card firm can widely distribute a press release highlighting the worst experience and direct people to a dedicated website where all of the worst experiences are publicly available, along with information about how business aircraft can eliminate these problems and a subtle ad for the contest sponsor. The sponsor should also make the people with the top-five worst experiences available for TV and radio interviews.

    The clear weak spot of airline travel is the whole airline travel experience. The business aviation industry should be exploiting this.

  24. Ernest Kaiser Says:

    As I reported, I’ve been around airplanes and airports since the late 40s. That I would eventually become licensed was inevitable. However, it isn’t the same for kids these days. Many airports have fenced the ramps off limits, kids no longer visit airplanes parked there. When I was flying regularly, I took my son and a number of his friends flying. Several are licensed pilots today, including my son. One is a Cobra pilot in the Army.
    The cost of flying has become so high, that I am concerned where will tomorrow’s pilots come from? In the Phoenix area we have or have had, several flying schools owned by or catering to foreign carries, for ab initio training paid for by the carriers (Lufthansa for one). US carriers don’t do that, the best on can do is co-pilot a regional after logging about 1,200 hours and acquiring commerial, instrument, multi, and possibly ATP ratings and licenses.
    The cost, $40,000 would be cheap, more like $60,000 or more. And considering what the right seat makes on a regional, maybe $25,000, who can afford it?
    We will have a severe shortage in the not-too-distant future. Not unlike controllers today only worse.
    Think about it.

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