The FAA vs. General Aviation

[Update: Boing Boing bought into the airlines’ side on this and went even further, confusing airport development funds with ATC costs and somehow making it sound like 25% of the cost of each airline ticket subsidizes rich people in bizjets. To their credit, they ran a couple of follow-up corrections from readers. Thanks to Mark for the tip.]

In this speech, U.S. FAA administrator Marion C. Blakey defends a new, fee-based U.S. system on these grounds:

“Tell you what. If the FAA really wanted to kill GA, as our critics claim, we’d just sit back and do nothing. We’d leave the air traffic system just the way it is, and let congestion slowly squeeze them out.”

What pilots know (but the public doesn’t) is that we have procedures for handling every part of a flight without help from air traffic control (ATC), and that thousands of flights every day go from point A to point B without ever talking to an air traffic controller, just like car drivers can manage a four-way stop without the help of a traffic cop. We have rules for departing (landing traffic gets right of way for the runway), rules for enroute (different altitudes for different directions of flight), and rules for arrival (everyone joins a circuit or pattern and takes their turn to land). In the Canadian north, as Aviatrix can attest, we even manage IFR just fine without ATC help.

These rules work great, but they do require that everyone slow down and get in line, and that’s where ATC comes in. Sure, a 737 could slow down to (say) 180 knots, fly a wide pattern, and wait its turn to land, but the airline doesn’t want it to (gas is expensive, and passengers hate being late). When the weather goes down, the airlines don’t want their jets and commuter turboprops stacked 20 deep in a hold following the one-in/one-out rule for uncontrolled airports in IFR. They don’t want to have to slow down to near propeller speed in terminal airspace in VFR so that they can see and avoid other traffic reasonably.

Because of all that, we have a special system in place to help the big guys out. There are controllers at busier airports, terminal controllers, and enroute controllers to help them get in and out of airports faster, without having to get in line and wait (at least, not as much). Huge amounts of airspace are reserved so that only aircraft talking to ATC can use them, again, almost entirely for the benefit of the airlines.

Remember that the sky belongs to everyone, and all this special accommodation for the airlines this is a bit of a pain for us G.A. pilots (long waits for clearances around class B/C or long detours, etc.), but we can get used to it, just like drivers get used to bus lanes. And sometimes (rarely), we even get our own tower at airports with extremely heavy G.A. traffic, just to help things along. It really adds insult to injury, though, when airlines complain that G.A. is not paying its fair share of the cost of this system (even though we already pay a fuel tax on both sides of the border, and a small fee in Canada, to subsidize a system designed largely for the airlines’ benefit), and it’s even worse when organizations like Nav Canada or the FAA start acting as lobbyists for the airlines.

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About David Megginson

Scholar, tech guy, Canuck, open-source/data/information zealot, urban pedestrian, language geek, tea drinker, pater familias, red tory, amateur musician, private pilot.
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4 Responses to The FAA vs. General Aviation

  1. Maybe if airlines actually charged enough money to cover costs and didn’t try to out do each other with cheap fares this wouldn’t be such a problem.

    If GA is “free loading” off the airlines what services are we free loading ? I can think of one comparison….the same reason I can download AVG for home-non profit use while a “business” has to purchase it to do the same purpose. The business is using it in its quest for profit much as airlines use airports and ATC. Can’t compare apples to oranges but and I understand competition in the industry but its the cost of doing business so quit your bitchin airlines :)

    Maybe the Canadian government can give our 55 dollar “medical” fee to airports or Navcanada to take the “burden” of offering us a service that they are in the business of providing !

  2. Niss says:

    If I am freeloading off of the airlines than my partner and I want our $75 from NAVCANADA back!

  3. david says:

    Niss: don’t forget the $0.11/litre you pay in a special fuel tax to support air traffic services (though when the feds spun off Nav Canada, they decided to hang on to the tax). If you burn 2,000 litres/year, that works out to another $220/year that’s at least supposed to help pay for the system.

  4. FD says:

    11 cents per litre ? Damn I am gonna start asking for direct all the time now since we are paying so much for the service !! :)

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