WASHINGTON, D.C. — General aviation is getting attention here, but the results are mixed between a favorable outlook and a more pessimistic future. The direction it will take seems to be determined more by affecting influences than on the industry.
The airlines cutting back on service presents a greater need for general aviation to maintain air transportation for all needs, from business travel, to cargo to emergencies. According to Forbes magazine, the 29 largest hub airports lost 8.8% of their yearly scheduled domestic flights in the six years between 2006 and 2012. Smaller airports with scheduled airline traffic reported a 21.3% drop.
The expected outlook for domestic airlines in the future is to continue to retrench into fewer places, cutting the less profitable markets. This means a greater need for GA flights and serviceable GA airports. Business, particularly, needs air service to communities not served well by the airlines. That is not just corporate jets, but singles and light twins as well, because businesses of all sizes are helped by air transportation.
These are positive signs for the future, but companies today are reluctant to move ahead to buy a plane (or make other large purchases) because of uncertainty of future costs and operations.
Much of that uncertainty comes from the Obama administration’s insistence on a $100 per flight user fee for some GA flights and a change in the tax write-off.
People connected with the industry are reluctant to be openly critical of any politician, but will express views anonymously The flight fee is seen by many as just a part of the anti-general aviation attitude of the current administration. Some believe the threat to close general aviation control towers, the FAA’s new approaches to safety issues, and the agency’s plan to charge the Experimental Aircraft Association for controller overtime, travel and per diem expenses at the annual AirVenture fly-in, could be more than a response to sequester. The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a number of recommendations for GA safety.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently called together heads of general aviation groups to talk more about safety. The meeting also included representatives from the NTSB. The current stress on aviation safety is happening despite a decline in accidents, although a slight increase in rates. Some fear it might be an indication of clearing airspace for commercial flights after NextGen is workable.
There are bright spots coming from Capitol Hill. General aviation caucuses are active in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. When the FAA was publicly talking about closing towers — which many thought was an administration bluff in an attempt to scare Congress into stopping sequestration — a group of 44 senators pushed the FAA to use money included in a bill to end sequester-related airline flight delays to keep the towers open.
Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) recently introduced a bill to set a deadline for restructuring outdated FAA regulations. A bipartisan companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
When introducing his bill, Pompeo said the president’s fee proposal, requested reduction in tax breaks for business aircraft, and constant referral to business flyers as “fat cats” hurts the industry. “The president gives that speech, it spooks the market,” he noted.
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), who represents a district in the president’s Chicagoland, said he is confident Congress will not go for the proposed flight fees. His district has seen a gradual erosion of aviation jobs.
A member of Congress recently commented that a better understanding of general aviation by the public at large would make their jobs easier.
The groups in Washington representing the various segments of general aviation generally are more optimistic than pessimistic about where GA is going. But, like a duck, they look calm on top, but underneath are paddling like the devil.