The Oct. 7 issue of General Aviation News included several articles warning against the dire consequences of user fees being proposed by our federal government. In a letter to the editor, Kevin Mossey even made the astounding claim that we “all need to sacrifice” by accepting higher fuel taxes. One can only imagine that he works for the government, the only sector of our economy that has not experienced Great Depression-era unemployment the past three years.
In this same issue of GAN, LSA expert Dan Johnson reported that 122 new S-LSA models have been certified in the past six-and-a- half years. Congratulations Dan! Most of these aircraft come from European nations that have funded their aviation infrastructure through user fees for decades, hardly consistent with the gloom-and-doom predictions from our aviation alphabets.
As someone who flies regularly in my second home of Germany, I do not see this purported devastation over there. One major difference, however, is that many German recreational pilots are members of clubs that own a fleet of well-maintained aircraft and operate their own private airfields, which typically include nice amenities such as restaurants, playgrounds, and camping facilities. Many such clubs have reciprocity agreements with others that result in very low user fees, if any at all.
What federal aviation services do we — as sport aviators — really require? Most of us fly day VFR from uncontrolled airfields, many of which are privately-owned. We get our weather and occasionally file a flight plan via the Internet. We can check weather and traffic enroute with handheld devices, and we communicate with CTAF (if anyone is listening) without the help of ATC. We pay for our own fuel infrastructure, our hangars, maintenance and training. A pay-as-you-go system is consistent with the means through which all consumers acquire goods and services now from the private sector, which, through the magic of free markets, guarantees us the best value and selection from a multitude of suppliers.
Those GA pilots who do fly IFR and operate out of large controlled airfields where user fees would be higher are more likely to be using aircraft for business and can — unlike sport aviators — deduct many of their expenses, depreciate their aircraft, and pass their aviation-related costs on to their own customers.
I suggest that the aviation alphabets stop screaming “Wolf!” and have a look at how things are being handled in Germany these days. One thing is certain: The way we’re now funding things, with temporary budget extensions, creates uncertainty that has in fact added to the devastation of our sport aviation community in recent years. Instead of looking for a solution to come from the source of most of our problems — our own government — I recommend a sharp turn to starboard and push to privatize as much of our aviation infrastructure as possible. The industry-driven ASTM method of LSA certification and the success of European flying clubs and private airfields are two good indicators that this is the best course to follow in the future.
Kent Misegades is an aerospace engineer, aviation sales rep for U-Fuel, and president of EAA1114 in Cary, N.C., who writes the Gafuels Blog with Dean Billing.