Obama shuts down our flight school

Tomorrow is going to be one of the nicest days to fly during this entire Boston winter. The weather will be sunny and the winds calm. It should be a perfect day for flying, collecting some money from students and renters, and paying taxes to the Commonwealth so that Obama’s Aunt Zeituni can continue to live in state-funded housing (at least until February 4, when her next deportation hearing is scheduled (source)). Except that we won’t be flying because Barack Obama has decided to spend the whole afternoon in Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire (story). Hanscom Field falls within the 30-nautical-mile “no flight training” zone (TFR).

The cost to the taxpayers and economy of this speech would probably be sufficient to build several hospitals in Haiti. Aside from whatever productivity is lost from having the president not working at his desk and local businesses shut down, we’re looking at getting a Boeing 747 to and from the Manchester airport. Then there are helicopters, limos, and SUVs to take the president and his Praetorian Guard from Manchester to a high school in Nashua (Nashua has its own airport, completely with instrument landing system, control tower, and 6,000′ runway suitable for corporate looters in their monster Gulfstreams, but it isn’t big enough for a Boeing 747 plus whatever other aircraft come up from Washington, D.C.).

What could he be telling these folks that they didn’t hear in the state of the union speech last week?

[Perhaps we should adopt a “glass is half full” outlook. Nancy Pelosi isn’t joining Mr. Obama. According to this aero-news.net piece, Pelosi and her entourage consumed $101,000 in food and alcohol while using U.S. Air Force planes to commute home, visit foreign countries, etc.]

11 thoughts on “Obama shuts down our flight school

  1. Is he using Manchester? When I lived in the area (circa 1995), Air Force 1 tended to use the former Pease AFB in Portsmouth. Something very attractive about an 11,000 x 300 foot runway designed for B-52s, compared to Manchester’s 7,000 (or so) foot runways. Maybe the winter temperatures make the difference?

  2. Ububba just isn’t an aerospace guy. Surprised no-one cared that he shut down the manned spaceflight program. For the 1st time in over 50 years there isn’t going to be a national spaceflight program.

  3. Roger: Manchester has a 9250′ runway (see http://www.airnav.com/airport/kmht ) in addition to the shorter one you’re thinking of. They also have awesome runway and touchdown zone lighting. It is a great airport.

    Calif*: I don’t think Obama’s flying around aimlessly in Air Force One shows that he isn’t committed to aviation; in fact, quite the opposite! Many people would prefer to stay at their desks rather than visit Nashua in February. Aside from the hassle and loss of revenue for us, I am dumbfounded by Obama’s constant flurry of travel and activity. How can the guy possibly get anything done?

  4. It was just announced that user fees have been dropped from consideration for the next budget proposal.

    Therefore it looks like airline passengers will continue to provide a generous subsidy to general aviation. So although you will lose the use of your airport for a couple of days you keep a healthy subsidy.

    (The last fiscal year I could find data for was FY2005)

    According to IRS data air carrier taxes provided for 86.5% of AIP funding, while fractionals and non-sked 135 provided 3.2% and the rest of GA weighed in with a hefty 1.5%.

    The bulk of GA’s contribution came from use taxes, followed closely by GA jet fuel taxes. The smallest number was the GA avgas tax with a year end total of $15.6 million. (G.A. piston was further broken out and their total AIP contribution was – 00.2%.)

    Contrast this with the commercial fuel tax paid by airlines of $382 million and their total tax burden (excluding income taxes) of $8.8 Billion.

    In addition to the above the GAO states that large and medium hub airports only get between 24% to 32% of their funding from the AIP. The rest is supplied by passenger facility charges. The GAO goes on to state that there is an inverse relationship between an airports’ enplanement numbers and their need to draw on AIP funds.

    Based on this it looks to me like the President if being very nice to GA, maybe too nice.

  5. Jon: One problem with user fees is that you have one of the world’s most inefficient organizations giving itself a monopoly and then trying to recover its average cost for each operation. We build 10,000′ runways and hire $250,000/year air traffic controllers (including the pension and benefit cost here; the average cash salary is closer to $125,000) and then want to get a guy flying a 2-seat Cessna 152 to pay his “fair share”. First off, because the U.S. government is so inefficient, it will cost us at least $20 to $50 per operation for billing (years ago, a friend was audited by the IRS and when it transpired that he owed less than $75 they said “We aren’t going to ask you to pay the difference because it costs us $75 to process a check and credit your account.”) Second, the “fair share” is either enormous or almost zero depending on whether you look at average cost or marginal cost.

    When the airlines want to make GA look bad, they calculate average costs and say “Look at all these touch-and-goes by the Cessna 152 and he is paying almost nothing compared to the Boeing 767 with 200 passengers that landed in between.” An economist might look at the situation and say “The runway was already there; the marginal cost of the Cessna landing was zero so he shouldn’t pay anything.”

    As with the proposed $1 trillion federal health care bonfire, which had been tried on a smaller scale by Massachusetts and resulted in massive increases in both spending and prices, the GA user fees experiment has been tried in Australia, Canada, and Europe. In no case has it resulted in significant net revenues being raised from the piston crowd. The most dramatic effect was in Australia, where GA activity plummeted. Pilots of Cessnas switched to ultralights and Honda Accords.

    Aviation is perhaps the only industry in the U.S. where we remain unquestionably the world leader. Foreigners come here from all over the world to train. We manufacture a lot of planes in all the corners of the kingdom. We export pilots to Asia, Africa and the Arab countries (and those guys send remittances home to America, just like a Haitian would send money back to his family in Haiti!). But it is a vulnerable industry. The Brazilians make some very nice airplanes, are the market leaders in regional jets and are now pushing into the markets for both smaller and larger jets (if not for our massive currency devaluation, Embraer would be a terrifying competitor to Boeing). China is manufacturing the latest Cessna design and the single-aisle Airbus series as well as building flight schools and airports. I guess you could argue that we could import airplanes from Brazil and China and then import the trained pilots too.

    In conclusion, user fees are a great way to collect money from GA pilots if you assume that GA pilots have no alternative but to fly and pay up (similar to the assumptions that Californians make on taxing rich people; they don’t factor in the possibility of Tiger Woods moving to Florida). In fact, experience from foreign countries suggests that GA is discretionary and GA pilots will switch to alternative forms of transportation, move to cheaper countries for training, and otherwise reduce activity to the point where fees collected barely cover the cost of collecting fees.

    For the non-airline perspective, check out http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/la-userfees.html

  6. Nancy Pelosi? One of my (few) fond memories of W’s debacle was watching Dick Cheney helicoptered at our expense from his taxpayer-paid flight to MSP into an affluent suburb of Minneapolis to hit up the local clutch of CEO’s (think Best Buy, Carlson Companies etc.) for campaign funds and congressional “lobbying” monies.

  7. Phil,

    Though the cost of operations is surely a factor (I assume that Hanscom has an ATC tower) that is only part of the picture. The AIP funds that provide for the runways, taxiways, instrument approaches and other infrastructure costs, at Hanscom and other GA airports, are also significant.

    You stated: “An economist might look at the situation and say ‘The runway was already there; the marginal cost of the Cessna landing was zero so he shouldn’t pay anything'”. This would only be valid if GA exclusively used air carrier airports. However, as you have stated many times, the lone air carrier utilizing Hanscom ceased service there years ago and now Hanscom is the exclusive province of GA. Since the airline passenger does not use any of those GA airports, their approaches, runways, taxiways etc. your argument is specious at best.

    These expenses are borne largely by airline passengers who derive little to no benefit from GA operations. Why should the guy in 23F on Southwest pay for an approach/runway/ramp used exclusively by Dr. Bonanza?

    Your argument that aviation is one of the few fields where the U.S. is a world leader is no better. You appear to be acknowledging the G.A. subsidy but defend it by listing all the great contributions that GA makes. This is the standard argument offered by any subsidized industry. “Yes we’re subsidized but look at all the jobs we create.”

    I don’t recall you being moved by this argument when it was used by those in the automotive industry to justify their bailout yet it seems acceptable when applied to your industry. This appears to be a consistent argument from budget hawks. “All subsidies are bad and should be eliminated, except this one because it’s mine and totally different from all those others because…………”

  8. Jon: Looking at an analysis done by the airlines to figure out if GA is being subsidized doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m not arguing that GA should be subsidized. I am disputing that it is subsidized.

    Let’s take just one fact: airlines don’t pay sales tax on their airplanes; GA owners in most states do. The hedge fund guy in Santa Monica who buys a Gulfstream for $60 million will pay 9.75% sales tax, which works out to $5.85 million. When the plane is sold 5 years later, the new owner will pay sales tax again, perhaps $3 million. The owner of a new Cirrus SR22 will pay $50,000 in sales tax and the plane will probably be sold five or six more times before it is scrapped. The owners of these planes will pay millions of dollars in additional sales taxes when they purchase maintenance and parts.

    It is quite possible that the sales taxes paid by airplane owners are not being piped into airports or air traffic control, but rather go to pay teacher and police pensions. But that isn’t the GA owner/pilot’s fault and is not within his control.

    The U.S. may be going bankrupt, but I don’t think it is obvious that GA has contributed to the collapse. The FAA would like to get more money from GA pilots. That is not evidence that GA pilots aren’t paying their share. It might only be evidence that California is not sharing any of the $5.85M in sales tax that they collected on the Gulfstream. If the government were to shut down all of the airports that our ancestors built, due to the fact that we can’t afford to maintain what they were able to construct, residents of the U.S. wouldn’t have much reason to buy airplanes. The savings from sealing cracks in the runways could well be much smaller than the loss of sales tax revenues, fuel tax revenues, hotel tax revenues, meal tax revenues, income tax revenues (on the professional pilots and flight attendants paid by GA operations), etc.

  9. philg: Ah, yes, the MHT runway has been extended since I was flying there (I left in 1995). Back then, the main runway’s south end stopped at taxiway F. I see from the airport diagram that it’s been extended quite a bit (maybe 2000 ft?) south.

    Jon: Another factor that Phil hasn’t mentioned is that a lot of the infrastructure is required by the airlines, and without them GA could get along with a lot less. The big business jets need almost as much as the airliners as far as ATC and IFR travel goes, but the average GA airplane can make do with much shorter runways and much less ATC contact. Even the big business jets (barring things like the business-conversion Boeing 737s and such) can usually get by with shorter runways than the airliners need.

  10. Roger: I had no idea that MHT had been expanded. I figured it was an old military field that the town had been creative with. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester-Boston_Regional_Airport indicates that the expansion of the airport was totally driven by the city officials. They have definitely taken a lot of business away from Logan/Massport. New Hampshire state government can be remarkably entrepreneurial, maybe because they can’t rely on an income tax on wages (the state does tax interest and dividend income).

    You reminded me that GA, including bizjets, wouldn’t need ATC at all, except for special events such as Oshkosh and at a handful of airports near the biggest cities. The GA planes fly in sufficiently random directions, to sufficiently random places (15,000 airports nationwide), that separation could be provided even for instrument flights with an automated distributed plane-based system (one level up of smarts up from the current TCAS). If we didn’t have 10 million commercial airline flights every year mostly crowding into a handful of major airports, we wouldn’t have a knotty congestion problem.

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