15 February 2008

Idiotic Editorial

I would expect something this full of logical faux pas from a high school paper. Not from one of the leading news dailies in the country.

The USA Today last Wednesday (the 13th) gave their opinion of H.R. 2881, the FAA funding bill that has been proposed recently. The funding plan, commonly called "user fees", would enact a pay-for-use tax on some services rendered by the FAA, including flight into some controlled airspace, and arrivals and departures at some of the major airports in the United States. The general aviation community, composed of all aviation not military or airlines, is strongly opposed to this new funding program, on the basis that the current funding system, if used properly, is more than good enough for the maintainence, upkeep, and modernization of the air traffic control system.

The general aviation community believes this new funding program to be unfair towards general aviation, and giving breaks to the airlines that they don't necessarily deserve.

The USA Today opinion is to give airline passengers a break, apparently believing that this new funding system would automatically fix the problems that the airlines have encountered as of late.

I wrote to the editor, this is what I said:

"I am writing to question your position on aviation user fees put forth in the February 13 edition. Far from making any intelligent case for user fees, your editors chose instead to repeat, nearly verbatim, the poor excuse for arguments that the airlines have been cramming down our throats recently. With a profit margin of only around 1%, airlines (and their passengers) are far from "subsidizing" us "high fliers" in our corporate jets and private aircraft. I work for a company that provides fractional aircraft ownership programs for its clients. These clients, in addition to their share of the aircraft, are responsible to pay for every flight hour they are using the aircraft. The price per flight hour is nearly $2,000; more, I think, than anyone has paid at the ticket counter recently. I would urge the editors to re-examine their position, rather than swallow uncritically the excuses from an industry defending their unwillingness to do the hard work of streamlining that needs to be done."

The article begins by explaining the delays and cancellations, which did reach an all-time high last year. While this statistic is deplorable and unfortunate, to lay blame on the airlines for all the missed events as the article does is stretching things quite a bit, in my opinion. Things happen, and passengers on any airline understand that there is some elements of travel that are beyond anyone's control. That being the case, most intelligent people "pad" their vacations and trips with extra days to compensate for this element of the unknown.

The article then attempts to blame these delays and cancellations on the broken system. I am not so naive to imagine that the air traffic system does not need modernaization, however, as I said in the beginning of this post, the current funding system only needs minor tweaks to be able to meet the demands of upkeep and modernization, as well at the future growth of the industry. And a quick note on that, who would you guess is going to be responsible for a large majority of that growth?

And, contrary to what the writer may want you to think, modernizing the entire air traffic control system is not as easy as putting a GPS navigation system on your dashboard and heading down the highway. Most aircraft in the air now have GPS on board, by the way. Most aircraft now have at least the option of traffic avoidance systems which can track nearby aircraft and warn of an impending collision, or at the very least, alert the pilot to other aircraft. I digress.

The article goes on to make the argument that this is a Republican problem, laying blame at the feet of the current administration, and the House Transportation Committee. In fact, far from being a governmental problem, it is much more complex. The article is correct in stating that some of the blame lies in the government's not being willing or able to explore viable alternatives to the funding system, but I would say that an equal share of the blame could be given to the airlines, who continue to use more and more smaller jets, as opposed to fewer larger jets, and as a result, increase congestion at their major hubs.

The statistics given in the next paragraph are proof of that. General aviation was responsible for only 16% of the air traffic control expenses in 2005. That means that the airlines are responsible for 84% of the cost of our airports and air traffic control systems.

And this whole argument is a bit of a red herring anyway, since the congestion at the major hubs, with the resultant delays and cancellations (a major airline argument for user fees) would not be solved by changing the funding mechanism through user fees anyway. The problem of congestion is a problem of too many aircraft in one place, and we will not solve that by making general aviation pay more into the system.

The user fee system being suggested would charge a fee for every arrival and departure for non-airline aircraft at certain airports. Currently, it would be limited to the main airports in the busiest Class B airspace, Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta, LAX, New York, Detroit, etc. As the article states, it is a small fee, easily absorbed (on first glance) by the "high fliers". But as a private pilot, and an employee of a business that operates general aviation aircraft, I am a member of the general aviation community. And I take exception to being called a "high flier". That term denotes somewhat of a "jet set" attitude, and the writer makes it clear the assumption that he is operating from is one where general aviation is merely a bunch of rich people who don't need that money anyway.

Clearly, there those people around. But they are not the majority of general aviation at all. I certainly could find a use for more money. I haven't flown in months because I have to pay to fly, and right now I have other obligations for that money.

And besides, that whole class warfare attitude has no place in this debate, or any debate, for that matter.

While I agree that there needs to be some sort of action to guarantee funding for the needed upgrading and maintenance of the air traffic control system, I do not think that general aviation user fees are the answer. They are merely a short-term solution suggested by the airline industry to prevent them from having to majorly overhaul their business model as they should. The majority of the burden for air traffic control comes from the airlines. In fact, the airline industry is the reason we have the air traffic system that we do in the first place. Therefore, my opinion is that the airlines should carry the majority of the burden for funding it's upkeep and maintenance.

Heres the crappy article, if you want to read it at all.



-Tim said...

So yes, I guess, from my also very limited understanding of general relativity, that indeed, the "present" end of the wormhole does travel through time currently with us. So theoretically we could create a time travel wormhole by anchoring the "past" end and just waiting? Unfortunately, as much as I read about it, I really don't understand that stuff very well, either. General relativity was once called the most inherently non-intuitive theorem ever devised. And that person was definitely not kidding. So… maybe?

Oh, and regarding the “Aught” posting, according to dictionary.com, aught , while indeed pertaining to should, is also an accepted spelling for zero. So, good both ways,.

Now, regarding your article. From what I understand then the FAA and the senate transportation committee seem to think this “user fee” paid only by non-commercial airlines, will solve all the problems at airports nationwide? I don’t understand that at all! I really don’t see extra money fixing the delays at all. And what is the deal with airlines over-booking flights, anyway? I’ve always wanted someone to explain that to me. It seems like it should be against the law to routinely and knowingly sell more product that one has available. Just my two cents. Anyway, good post!

-Tim said...

Thanks for the Chewy comments! We sure think he is a keeper.

Cosmology: Brian Greene is very cool, I have several of his books on my BookMooch wishlist. Wish I could have gone. There is soooo much out there that even the experts do not understand. The missing 80% of matter that has to be out there to make our universe the way it is, to the 11 or 15 demensions they keep on changing that our world is comprised of... God really outdid himself with this universe!

Planes: So when someone does not show up for their flight, the Airline looses out on the money? It seems like it should be the other way around. I don't get my money back when I skip out on the concert I had tickets for, why should I when I miss my plane? It's my own fault. If the airlines still got thier money for flying the empty seats then everyone would be better off, right? And yes, they should be the ones paying for the air-craft control refurbishing. Maybe make it a pro-rated basis per company that flies into and given airport. So if, say, United flights into LAX make up 15% of their traffic then United should pay 15% of the maintenance. It seems like that would work for everyone, even the independant and non-commercial flights. Again, though, I understand very little about the situation so maybe thats a bad idea, too...