Industry’s excitment about record sales tempered by spectre of user fees

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the annual industry review meeting of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), companies reported a record year for dollar volume in 2005, a 20% growth in the number of piston airplanes delivered, a positive outlook for the future, and a determination to not allow user fees, proposed by the administration and strongly endorsed by the scheduled airlines, to wreck the use of business and personal aircraft.

In the strongest words heard in many years from the manufacturing industry, GAMA’s leaders declared user fees are “”storm clouds”” ahead and could have devastating effects on general aviation.

Peter Bunce, GAMA’s president, said the scheduled airlines see user fees as a way to cut their expenses. He challenged the contention that the aviation trust fund is in financial trouble. A decrease in the amount of federal fund support to the FAA makes the trust fund look short, he said. Bunce also challenged the contention that general aviation is not paying its share. The air traffic control system is built for the airlines, he said, adding that general aviation and air carriers do not conflict. With graphs he showed there is no connection between the 20 busiest airports used by airlines and the 20 busiest used by general aviation.

He also debunked the claim that a growth in general aviation — particularly the new breed of very light jets — would put an unbearable strain on the ATC system. Bunce said general aviation is willing to pay its fair share through fuel taxes, but a plan for expanding the ATC is needed before any financing proposals.

“”We are going to war against user fees,”” the GAMA chief declared. He added that general aviation is united on this, citing similar positions from other associations.

The battle against user fees will be in the Congress. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) followed Bunce to the podium urging all to contact their senators and representatives to defeat any user charge items in the renewal of the aviation trust fund later this year. Tiahrt, who represents Kansas’ fourth district, which includes Wichita, has introduced a bill — HR 2787 — to restore the role of aviation advocacy to the FAA’s charter.

While pleased with last year’s sales and optimistic about the future, GAMA’s chairman warned that unrealistic forecasts are being used to push for user fees. Jack Pelton, president and CEO of Cessna, does not expect a market for more than 8,700 very light jets over the next 10 years — and some of these will replace older aircraft now in the fleet.

Pelton said new technologies are paying off. He cited increased uses of composite materials, newer and quieter engines, and avionics that provide enhanced vision with heads-up displays, among other advances.

GAMA’s report did not cover any of the activity in the new Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) market. When asked if the association had any plans to include these manufacturers, Bunce replied there have been conversations about it and probably will be discussions with Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association and long-time activist for this category of flight. Nothing at the moment is concrete.

Speaking at GAMA’s executive meeting earlier in the day, Mark V. Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), reiterated the board’s commitment to general aviation safety. “”Having a safe and efficient aviation transportation network is essential for the commercial viability, economic stability and security of the nation,”” he said.

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

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