ICYMI - WSJ Editors: Private Jet-Setters Against Better Air Travel
The folks who don’t fly commercial are blocking air-traffic reform
By The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board
February 14, 2018
President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal again includes a good idea to improve American air travel: separating air-traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration. But oddly the idea wasn’t part of Mr. Trump’s infrastructure plan this week, and one reason may be implacable opposition from the lobbyists for the paupers known as the corporate jet lobby.
House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster wants to leverage private expertise to run the U.S. air-traffic system, which has failed to evolve with technology. The bill would replace taxes with user fees, as Canada and other countries have done.
Yet some who think they benefit from the current system are running a misinformation campaign, and a ringleader is the National Business Aviation Association. President and CEO Ed Bolen said in a November op-ed that a spinoff would hand airspace to a board “dominated by the airlines and their allies” and “threaten needed upgrades at airports in small towns and communities across the country,” among other charges. The head of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association co-wrote the piece.
The contention that the airlines would own the sky is a powerful political argument because the public imagines the traffic director of the heavens as a United gate agent. But the major airlines would nominate only one seat on a 13-member board, as the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole has pointed out, down from four in a previous proposal.
Also on the board are members nominated by cargo airlines, regional airlines, airports, business jets, unions and others, none of whom will be easily reaccomodated to whatever the major airline agenda is. Board members cannot be employed or paid by any aviation business or group during their tenure. The bill also exempts general aviation from paying any air-traffic user fees. This includes business jets.
Another canard is that small communities will be stranded. The bill continues to throw money into the Airport Improvement Program, which exists to funnel money into runway and other updates, especially for rural airports. The bill also maintains Essential Air Service that pours cash into rural routes that are often barely patronized. One near certainty: Congress won’t end these subsidies.
What’s really going on? The business jet industry pays 0.6% of aviation user taxes but accounts for 11% to 13% of controlled traffic, as Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has noted. The industry would like to keep it that way.
Then again, perhaps his members should ask Mr. Bolen for a refund. The point of a spinoff is that private expertise could implement new technology that allows planes to take off and land in more efficient patterns and fly more direct routes. A CEO flying to Los Angeles for lunch is sensitive to 30 minutes awaiting takeoff.
The status quo comes at your expense. The Eno Center for Transportation recently compared weight and distance fees like Canada’s with U.S. taxes. Fees on an Airbus A320 from New York to Fort Myers, Fla., would be 43% lower than today’s taxes, and on some routes the figures dipped to a 60% reduction. This translates to a radical cut in the annoying list of costs tacked on to your ticket price.
If business jets try to tank the bill no matter the details, then Republicans ought to subject them to fees, same as commercial flights. Air travel is becoming less pleasant, and according to one analysis the average time from push back to arrival is increasing on many routes—more than 80 minutes from D.C. to New York LaGuardia, up from 67 minutes in 1990. Apparently that hasn’t been an issue for the folks flying in and out of Teterboro.
Appeared in the February 15, 2018, print edition.
For more information on H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act, visit the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's website.