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Very General Aviation
All those taxes and fees on your airline ticket for flying out of a regular airport? Billions of dollars in revenues from those taxes and fees are going to small airports used mainly by private pilots and corporate jets. Bob Porterfield writes for the AP:

"They're making out like bandits," said Bob Poole, director of transportation studies at Southern California's Reason Foundation and author of several studies on air transportation costs. "It's not only that airline passengers are paying more than their fair share, but they're being overtaxed to give private jets a free ride."

Passengers pay as many as six separate taxes and fees on a single airline ticket, adding up to more than $104 billion since 1997, the AP found. Yet these assessments often are overlooked by the millions who click the "buy" button to purchase tickets online, even though they can exceed 25 percent of the total airfare.

Travelers deal with more hassles than ever. In 2006, more passengers were bumped, their flights delayed or their bags lost than in 2005, according to the annual Airline Quality Rating report released earlier this month.

"What are people getting for their money?" said Kenneth Button, a professor of transportation at George Mason University's School of Public Policy and an expert on air transit taxation. "Delays are increasing. How can consumers make a sensible assessment on how the money is being spent? You need an abacus to figure out all the costs."

Congress will decide later this year whether to curtail the huge public subsidy for small airports, while pilots' associations, airport managers and other interested groups are fighting to keep it.

Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents 8,000 operators of private jets and other aircraft, said all Americans benefit from the proliferation of small airports throughout the country. They aid emergency preparedness and critical services such as medical evacuations and mail delivery, he noted.

Without help from the federal government in the form of passenger taxes, many would be unable to survive, Bolen said.

"Not all aircraft are the same nor do they impose the same costs on the system," he said. "If we were grounded tomorrow, the system would cost the same."

Mark Cooper of the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America said the key question is whether passengers are paying for something and getting nothing in return.

"It costs me more to park my car at National Airport than it costs to park a corporate jet," he said.

Here's how it works:

• J.T. Wilson Field in Somerset, Ky. got more than $12 million since 2001, much of it through the influence of local Rep. Hal Rogers, a longtime Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee who uses the airfield for trips home. Wilson Field is home base to 26 small planes and one jet. Despite millions in improvements, including a passenger terminal, the airport has yet to see scheduled commercial service.

• California's Napa Valley Airport collected $6.3 million in taxpayer dollars over the past two years, even though it mainly serves private jets and small planes in addition to being a pilot training base for Japan Air Lines.

• Sardy Field, in the ultra-rich mountain playground of Aspen, Colo., has received $27.2 million in funding since 2005. While Aspen does offer service by major airlines, private jets and other general aviation aircraft make up the majority of its traffic, airport officials said.

• Austin Municipal Airport, about 90 miles south of Minneapolis, is home base for 25 small planes and three jets, at least two of which are owned by Hormel Foods, a Fortune 500 company with headquarters nearby. Since 2000, the airport received nearly $16 million in federal funding. More than two-thirds of the takeoffs and landing are by small, private planes.

• Greenville Municipal Airport, on Maine's Moosehead Lake, received $4.1 million over two years despite being the home airport to eight small planes and seeing fewer than 6,000 takeoffs and landings per year.

And so on...

via Consumerist

Posted by aalkon at April 16, 2007 12:58 PM


I'm shocked that Congress might be appropriating tax dollars paid primarily by regular people and using them to fund projects that primarily benefit the wealthy and well-connected. This is an outrage. I'm sure that the Democrats will fix it.

Posted by: justin case at April 16, 2007 8:19 AM

My sentiments exactly.
Wake me up when a politician runs on a platform to abolish even 10% of the budget of IRS, INS, FCC, FAA, FDA, USPS, the failed education system, etc. Though many of them are self-funding now so it would be more of a curtailment of powers.

The left and the right are indistinguishable in terms of increasing government size and power. They just differ in the look and smell.

Posted by: Jon at April 16, 2007 9:47 AM

Same sort of thing applies to water out here in the west. Urban water users pay 10 times the amount the farmers pay for the same water, specifically so that huge landowners like Texaco can get a free ride.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at April 16, 2007 9:50 AM

The mythology attached to the American farmer is so potent that they've convinced the government to pay them not grow stuff for years, or to subsidize tons of crops so that they can keep growing stuff that goes well beyond what can be sold... it boggles the mind.

Posted by: justin case at April 16, 2007 9:57 AM

Hey! I'm a full time farmer and I can tell you...the farm program is worse than you know. Those of us on the subsidy bandwagon are like a bunch of married guys at a gang bang: it is kind of embarrassing, but no one wants to miss out.

Posted by: doombuggy at April 16, 2007 12:52 PM

There are many problems with the bias on the article you
quoted. Rather than detail them myself, how about some
counter-prop from AOPA:

What happens when you paint with broad strokes? You miss
quite a few spots. Case in point. The Associated Press recently
sent a national story across the wires about the FAA funding
debate. It contained some oversimplifications and inaccuracies,
which put general aviation in a bad light.

The good news is that at the local level, thanks to further
research conducted by AP's own reporters, a much brighter and
truer picture emerged. GA is important for everything from
disaster relief to economic development.

"It's amazing what facts will do for a story," said AOPA
President Phil Boyer, a former ABC executive. "When you put more
on the table, the flaws in this radical FAA funding scheme become
readily apparent. We encourage our members to write their local
media and let them know how you feel."

Basically, the national story said that small airports, are
getting billions of dollars from taxes paid by airline
passengers, and using the funds with little oversight "at the
expense of an increasingly beleaguered air transportation
system." The article also quoted longtime air traffic control
privatization advocate Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation
supporting this position.

Since the story first appeared in Internet news outlets such
as Yahoo! News and later in many daily newspapers, AOPA has
received hundreds of outraged phone calls and e-mails from our
members. The FAA's funding proposal would raise fuel taxes,
charge user fees, and slash airport funding. Andy Cebula, AOPA
executive vice president of government affairs, had spent 45
minutes on the phone with the reporter who put together the
national story emphasizing the need for a national air
transportation system not simply a few airline airports. But
little of what Cebula said wound up in the final draft.

About a week ago, AP headquarters in New York sent out an
advisory to its bureaus, asking reporters to look into the issue
on the local level. What they found, for the most part, is that
airport funding is desperately needed, fuel tax increases would
cripple GA and hurt local economies, and that GA serves a vital
purpose. Those "localized" stories have been appearing in news
outlets throughout the country.

Some excerpts:

Louisiana. Yvonne Chenevert, manager of the False River
Regional Airport at New Roads, said that GA plays a "critical
role" in a state that has one of the worst highway systems. Few,
if any, commercial flights can easily link its commercial
aviation cities. She told the AP that radically changing the
airport funding system would throw away 30 years of policy that
proves beneficial to the public.

Mississippi. Bill Cotter, airport manager at Stennis
International in coastal Hancock County, said that the airport
was instrumental during the response to Hurricane Katrina. They
were able to get supplies into the Gulfport-Biloxi and New
Orleans areas more quickly than the closer and heavily damaged
airports could. Disasters could also happen in other big cities
like Atlanta where small airports would play a big role.

Indiana. Small airports are about more than executives and
the Piper Cub pilots who fly out of them, said Andrea Montgomery,
who owns Montgomery Aviation and operates Indianapolis Executive
Airport. According to a study by the Aviation Association of
Indiana, the airport made a $44 million economic impact on its
community in 2005. She is worried about what a 70-cent gas tax
hike would do to airports in the most remote areas. FAA
spokesman Tony Molinaro was quoted as saying that if smaller
airports can succeed and grow, they attract commercial airlines.
That's important, he said, in a place like Chicago.

Washington. A version of the story that ran in the Washington
state area, the historic home of Boeing, pointed out how small
airports provide a base for search-and-rescue operations and that
flight schools provide a feeder system for future airline pilots.

New York. A little airport built by Joe Costa after World War
II is still going strong. Corning-Painted Post Airport has
received $5.8 million in government grants and is due to get
another $3.2 million by 2010. Rita McCarthy, manager of the Town
of Erwin, figures it makes sense because you get the money back
in nine years. After that, she said it's "gravy."

Posted by: Ron at April 16, 2007 2:24 PM

We own an airplane (a small 4-seater propeller plane, not a fancy jet), and I'm a slightly nervous passenger who sees things from an entirely different perspective now that I've been in the cockpit for 5 years watching the process and listening to the radio calls (and reluctantly learning a little bit about flying an airplane). Anyone who flies, commercially or in private planes, should be grateful that there are so many small airports sprinkled across our landscape. Emergency and semi-emergency landings aren't all that uncommon, and you want an airport close by when it's necessary.

Kind of like a restroom. When you need one, you're glad there's one close by. It really bites when you need to go hunting for one.

Posted by: Tess at April 16, 2007 3:34 PM

> GA is important for everything from
> disaster relief to economic development.

Please allow me to translate that from weasel to English:

GA is important for everything from welfare to graft.

Posted by: Shawn at April 16, 2007 8:28 PM

Shawn, perhaps you are unaware that it was a GA airport that was instrumental with rescue efforts after Katrina. Posted on the AOPA (a pilots' organization) website are the comments by Bill Cotter, airport manager at Stennis International in coastal Hancock County, pointing out that the airport was instrumental during the response to
Hurricane Katrina. They were able to get supplies into the Gulfport-Biloxi and New Orleans areas more quickly than the closer and heavily damaged airports could.

He also points out that disasters could also happen in other big cities like Atlanta where small airports would play a big role. Is this welfare? I think it's one of the few things government is useful for: rescuing our citizens from disaster.

As far as "graft," please consider that a good portion of the money going to GA airports is for runway extension. Jets need a lot more runway than smaller GA airplanes, and it IS good for local economies to have the ability to land jets---both for commercial reasons and for emergencies.

Finally, please also consider that most GA airports reject available FAA funding because it always comes with strings attached. GA airports are usually operated with regional and commercial funds---yes, as a means of regional development.

Posted by: Tess at April 17, 2007 6:11 AM

Tess, you are correct that I was unaware that it was a GA airport that was "instrumental during the response to Hurricane Katrina." Also, my posting was in response to Ron's posting of utter, evening-news-grade schlock from the AOPA. I see and agree with your earlier point about the need for emergency landing locations.

However, I stand by my original comment. I think Amy nailed it with this quote: "What are people getting for their money?" Specifically, what are the people who are paying the money getting for it? Paying for someone else to be rescued is not getting something. It's welfare. And like all welfare it insulates people from their own bad decisions. Decisions like choosing to live in a place that is at such a risk of flood that private flood insurance is unavailable or unaffordable.

Economic development is even worse. Of all of the bad ideas that still thrive among a majority of the population it is among the worst. It makes me despair of my fellow human beings' intelligence because it is so blatantly and obviously not in the public interest. When you call it communism most people here in the US seem to have figured out that it doesn't work out well, which, I guess, is why politicians have to call it economic development.

Here's the best summary I can come up with for how it works. The government takes money from people via force or threat thereof. Politicians give most of that money to their friends and keep some for themselves. So far, standard government stuff, but here's where it gets good... That's it! That's all they have to do. Normally they would have to at least keep up some sort of pretense that the money helped provide some public good like protection from terrorists, education to produce more competent voters, etc., but with economic development they avoid the hassle. There's nothing like the smell of bacon in the morning.

If you don't see what I am trying to say here, I suggest reading Frederic Bastiat's outstanding essay "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen." Then ask yourself what would have happened to the money spent on economic development if it had not been spent on economic development.

Now, about emergency landings - I don't know how often these happen or how much it costs to have airports available, but paying money into some general fund that is then doled out by politicians seems like a very lousy way of meeting the specific need. Off the top of my head I'd say that requiring airlines to always have an emergency landing strip within x miles of their flight path seems like it would be better. The airlines could then contract directly with airports for this insurance. The advantage here is that people who are using the service pay for it and those who don't use it don't pay. Also, it puts at least a little incentive in place for the airports to be efficient in providing the service.

Posted by: Shawn at April 19, 2007 8:07 PM

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