Political climate creates uncertainty for GA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Washington political situation will make the climate for general aviation “”uncertain”” this year.

That’s according to James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), who stressed this at a recent meeting for the Washington, D.C., press.

Uncertainty brings with it many issues that can cause concern, he notes. However, despite the uncertainty of federal policy, Coyne stays optimistic about how aviation will fare in the future.

With both political parties jockeying for position and power, neither will take positions or back bills or appointments that it believes will give advantage to the other, he says. This includes the reauthorization of the FAA, which Coyne says might drag on until after the presidential election and into 2009.

The FAA reauthorization includes the debate over user fees. Coyne says when reauthorization finally is settled, he believes Congress will be fair but “”the final decision will make nobody happy.””

Confirmation of Robert Sturgell to be the FAA administrator also could be in never-never land for many months, the NATA leader says. Sturgell is one of more than 75 nominations awaiting confirmation. Coyne sees this as “”a big chess game”” going on in the Senate, with each side trying to get its people approved while blocking the opposition appointees. Democrats do not want an FAA administrator, appointed by a Republican president, in the post for five years. They would rather wait until after the election, when they believe a member of their party will be in the White House.

If Coyne’s analysis is correct, the uncertainty will mean little action from the FAA this year.

With the Very Light Jet out of its development stage, Coyne says he expects to see growth in that market. He also expects the Transportation Security Administration to issue its long-expected regulations, within a few weeks, for all general aviation aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds.

NATA represents air taxi operators and Coyne sees a major growth in this segment of the aviation industry.

“”In the next 24 months I see two or three dozen entrants in the air taxi business,”” he says. The hassle of airline travel is moving more and more business executives to general aviation and the company that doesn’t have enough travel to justify its own aircraft is taking advantage of air taxis, he notes.

The most worrisome issue for all aviation, Coyne believes, is the environment. Noise will continue to be an issue, but emissions are starting to take center stage with potentially-enormous costs to all aviation.

European countries already are moving on the issue. What is being proposed could cost the aviation community millions of dollars to meet the emissions tax requirements, he says, adding that, ironically, the attention to environmental issues could be a way to get the long-awaited modernization of the air traffic system.

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

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