The state of the industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The future of general aviation looks bright but major issues will be faced this year. That was the assessment of the state of the industry by James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), at that group’s annual luncheon for Washington journalists.

Saying the business and charter sides of general aviation are showing growth, he expressed concern whether the owner-flown segment can rebound. “”The air traffic control system is stifling aviation,”” he said.

The extra burden the Washington, D.C. ADIZ is putting on the air traffic control system (ATC) shows it can’t handle expected growth, Coyne said, adding a new approach is needed. He used the analogy of the telephone. A half-century ago no one could envision the number of telephones, cell phones and other communication devices in use now.

Had the telephone industry not advanced from the system of an operator handling each call to an automatic dial system, these advances never could have been made. “”We must get to that in aviation,”” he said, explaining more information and control must be in the cockpit.

The introduction of the very light jet (VLJ) this year will significantly increase the number of planes flying IFR. The VLJs, selling for only a fraction of the cost of other business jets, can go to most airports, adding to their appeal for business travelers whose large jets are limited to major airports. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey predicts at least 4,500 VLJs in use 10 years from now, an admittedly conservative estimate. NASA projects 20,000. If only 2% of business travelers move from the airlines to their own VLJs, Blakey says it will triple the number of takeoffs and landings that controllers must handle.

Financing the FAA is a subject coupled to the growth. “”The FAA must first control its own costs,”” Coyne said. The proposal for user fees is nothing but added taxes, he noted. “”I am very worried about how all this will turn out,”” he commented, adding that there is dissension “”at a time when aviation should be working together.””

The airline industry is pushing hard to have user fees fund the FAA, claiming they pay too big a share. James May, president of the Air Transport Association (ATA), has claimed that “”[the airline industry] pays virtually 100% of expenses, although it is only a consumer of two-thirds of air traffic services and infrastructure.”” He also claims airlines subsidize “”non-commercial airports.””

Although the airlines pay 4.4 cents a gallon tax on jet fuel, the carriers also collect taxes and fees paid by passengers and do not have to turn the receipts over to the government for three months.

During the luncheon, Coyne also decried the lack of federal leadership on airport development. “”I am dismayed that the FAA is not promoting aviation,”” he said.

In the end, he concluded, the FAA must answer to Congress and that is where the major issues will be decided.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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