Who Needs General Aviation?

There’s been a lot of discussion about airport funding in recent weeks, given the squeeze on the economy. Small airports need upgrades and repairs to remain operational. Airport fuel taxes continue to fund a large part but they also benefit from federal funding.

Despite the valiant efforts of AOPA and others, to most people general aviation is the corporate high roller in their Gulfstream or possibly the rich adrenaline junkie. There are only 22 major airports in the country which the majority of travelers use. Why should tax dollars be used for smaller airports? Everyone who travels should recognize that to prevent further scheduling problems at the large airports, we need to support the landing facilities across the country that handle the corporate, law enforcement, small business, flight schools, fire fighting, air ambulance, freight haulers, so that these aircraft don’t use the large airports. All of the airport uses other than commercial passenger are still important to a strong economy. If small airports and ATC are funded by direct user fees, these industries will shrink or collapse altogether. I believe the funding system that has been working for decades can continue to work.

General Aviation includes crop dusters, overnight freight and business support. It’s the way most pilots get training. Forestry, search and rescue, firefighting, energy, and construction all depend on it. That’s why there’s over 5,300 general aviation airports in the U.S. in addition to the 600 that support scheduled flights. There’s at least 10,000 more private use landing areas and helipads.

Just as trucks place a greater strain on the national highway system,  paying higher taxes and fees than family cars, airlines must carry a greater portion of the financial burden for the air traffic control system. You may never drive to the tens of thousands of small communities served by our national highway system, and you might never visit thousands of small airports that make up our aviation system. A road system that serves only 22 cites wouldn’t work.  Similarly, when roads and airports connect thousands of cities,we all pay a share for their maintenance.

Of course we could revert to fees with $4,400 per flight plan with an advance 24 hour requirement similar to some countries. But then, the only ones who will fly will be the rich and famous.

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6 responses to “Who Needs General Aviation?

  1. Most people think of business jets as little more than air taxis for corporate executives and the super rich. From my experience and observation that is rarely the case. Most business jets are transporting time critical equipment and personnel to keep the economy running. This private infrastructure obviates the need to maintain dozens or even hundreds of warehouses, depots, technicians, advisors dotted around the country. A corporation like IBM or GE can have three or four bases near to a GA airport and be able to deploy assets or inventory anywhere in the country in a matter of a few hours.

  2. The airports I have flown out of are both “class D” and classified as reliever facilities. One has four runways. Without these airports, more cargo and passengers would be clogging up O’Hare and Midway.
    Hopefully Australia doesn’t have the same issues with funding. If user fees become a reality, fewer and fewer pilots will fly. More airports will close.

  3. Wilco/

    Of course I guess you don’t Even want to talk about Meigs. 🙂

    • Sprocketman has returned!
      Ack! Meigs. Thanks for reminding me.

      Mayor Daley forever cast himself as an underhanded, scheming scoundrel (which seems to be common in Illinois politicians) to all Chicago area pilots. Meigs was the jewel of the city, generated lots of revenue and was a unique landmark. Now, it’s just a park like many others on the lake.
      There is indeed a great deal of misunderstanding about aviation for most of the public. After 9/11 it got worse and Daley “never wasted a crisis” to coin another scheming politician from Illinois.

      Perhaps he sees himself as another Huey Long, from the machine controlled Louisiana days?

  4. Very few regional airports in Australia receive Federal funding – at least not directly. Most were once owned by the Commonwealth, but were handed over to local governments many years ago. Most local governments would dearly love to chop the runways up and sell the land to developers, but the few that have tried have discovered terms in the original agreements stating that the land must continue to be used for the purposes of aviation. Of course, it has taken the very vocal efforts of pilot associations to remind them of this. Some local governments seem to have finally got the message and instead of seeing the airport as a white elephant asset to be disposed of, have encouraged aviation development and are seeing the rewards, i.e. Wollongong, Cessnock, Temora off the top of my head.

    • Small airports in the U.S.receive funding from both the state the federal governemnt for expansion and improvements but general operations are funded in large part by fuel taxes and airport fees. Fuel taxes run anywhere between $.25 to $.35 per gallon depending on the state.
      Most municipalities are proud of their airports but if small one get a lot of pressure to close if they are close to urban / suburban developments.

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