The Other Shoe

Surprise ! The Bush Administration isn’t as dumb as they want you to believe. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey’s plan to charge user fees was met with outrage by anyone that knows anything about aviation -- except for the airlines of course. The airlines are the ones that will make out like bandits so why should they complain ? If all goes accordingly to plan, the airlines will own the taxpayer’s National Airspace System (or at least the keys to it) and they will be able to charge whatever they want, for anyone that wants to use it.

But getting back to the Bush Administration. They have a new offensive underway to convince the general public that they (the general public) are supporting the “rich”, private pilots using the smaller airports. While pretending all the time that they (the Bush Administration) are not (supporting the rich with your taxes.) Expect to see more stories in the press like this one.

Lord have mercy. They even dragged out old Bobby Poole to sell their story. Mr. Privatization himself. He’s the guy that wants to turn your interstate system into a toll road. P.T. Barnum would be proud.

Speaking of circuses, did you know Administrator Blakey owned a PR firm ? Seriously. Blakey and Agnew . Let’s take apart this story she’s trying to sell.

They say airline passengers (that would be you, the hero, the Average Joe) pay too much in airline ticket taxes so that (rich, evil villain, bad guy) private pilots can have their own little airport to play around with. The outrage ! Somebody get a rope !

”"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."”

Now hold on a minute there, Bobby Joe. Who’d you say was flying in them -there private jets ? The Free Marketeers ? Ain’t that the same folks that want to buy the interstates so they can get rich charging Average Joe tolls to use a highway that Average Joe already paid taxes to build ? Ain’t that what they call biting the hand that feeds you --the Reason Foundation ? Least ways, I (and folks like me) don’t write checks to fancy think tanks.

I didn’t go to MIT but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck either. You and Blakey ought to write movies for Hollywood. This plot has more twists (and fiction) than the Martin Scorsese film I watched last night. Poole and Blakey want to privatize the National Airspace System. The first misdirection is user fees. No one in aviation is in favor of user fees except the (mostly bankrupt) airlines. Well, to tell the truth, the airlines don’t really care about user fees but a separate revenue stream would make the privatization go smoother and they do care about that.

Now that everyone is raising such a ruckus about user fees and House Transportation Committee Chairman Oberstar has promised to give the proposal “a decent burial”, Administrator Blakey is going to play the class warfare card and Bobby Poole is going to help. That’s rich.

Mr. Think Tank and Ms. Public Relations are on the side of Average Joe. Sure they are. “Step right up folks and see the 160 year old woman.”

There’s a two-dimensional message in the latest line that Administrator Blakey is feeding the press. First, Average Joe is paying the money so that the fat cats can ride around in their Gulfstreams. That is true. Just not in the way Ms. PR is trying to spin it. (By the way, Administrator Blakey rides around in a Gulfstream herself. Your Gulfstream.) The fact is, it is the tax breaks that allow them such luxury. Average Joe paid the taxes that built the system -- the airports, the navigational aids, the air traffic controllers, etc. -- that the country uses to conduct commerce. If people would just tell him the truth, Average Joe probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. Business (including the aviation business) has been good for America.

The second message is that she wants to put the Airport Improvement Program funds into play and threaten the funds local governments depend on to make their airports run. In other words, if she doesn’t get her way she’ll take her ball and go home. Sorry, it’s not her ball (it’s the taxpayer’s) and she’s going home anyway. Her term is just about up. Oh, and the guys riding around in their own jets (unlike Blakey, they bought theirs) will come out of all this just fine (thank you very much) because they have enough money to build their own airport if need be. They’d probably get a tax break for doing it, to boot.

The only guy that will get hurt is the guy Blakey wants you to think she’s helping; aviation’s version of the Average Joe. The guy that can barely afford to fly and the small business that can barely afford the airplane they’re using to try and cram more productive hours into the day so they can grow.

And there is one other person that will be hurt; You. Smaller airports are basic infrastructure. It’s where pilots learn to fly (providing a labor pool for industry), it’s where your medical tests are gathered to fly to major labs, they are where your last minute Christmas packages are picked up for overnight shipping. It’s where law enforcement bases their smaller aircraft and it’s where air shows are held. I’m not asking you to get sappy about it. Look at the money. The revenue. The tax base. Just air shows alone -- usually a once a year event for an airport -- drew 18 million spectators last year. That is second only to baseball. Small airports are just good business.

Even if you don’t agree with all that, you’re stuck with many of those airplanes using the “airline” airports if the smaller airports close. Think about what that will do for airline delays. Blakey is supporting a lose-lose program. Unless you happen to be an airline.

One more thing before I go. An honorable mention to the Air Transport Association’s John Heimlich for the arrogance displayed in this statement:

”"We're not saying money shouldn't be going to those airports," said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist at the Air Transport Association, a trade group representing the airlines. "We're saying it shouldn't be our money."”

Hate to break it to you Mr. Heimlich but there is no “our money” when it comes to the Air Transport Association. Your group wouldn’t even exist -- your industry wouldn’t even exist -- if it wasn’t for the American taxpayers. From the Post Office saving the airlines with Air Mail to the Department of Defense paying for the R&D at Boeing to launch the jet age, to the bailout of your industry after 9/11 -- the American taxpayer has been real good to you and the people you represent, Mr. Heimlich. They’re the ones paying the taxes when they buy your tickets. You might want to give that some thought. Their goodwill isn’t limitless.

Don Brown
April 18, 2007


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