Maybe Business Jet Groups Don’t Want to Pay Their Fair Share Or Fix Their Image

My most recent Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter seems to be drawing some attention because I suggested that business aviation could improve its image by paying for its fair share of air traffic control (ATC) services. I wrote:

For business aviation to alter its current “fat cat” image will take more than rhetoric. One very positive gesture this industry could make would be to help address the impending budget crunch that threatens timely implementation of NextGen, the transformed ATC system that, by doubling or tripling capacity, will dramatically reduce delays and make all of aviation more effective…Supporting the $25 NextGen fee would be a symbolically important step for NBAA and other business aviation advocates. It would make tangible their claim that business aviation is not a luxury but a necessity.

Over at AIN Online, Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, responds to my newsletter in a short piece by AIN’s Chad Trautvetter:

In response, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen told AIN that Poole’s comments are a “thinly veiled attempt to promote aviation system privatization. He said the general aviation community supports ATC modernization and has “agreed to pay more in direct investment for modernization through Congressional proposals that build on the proven, pay-at-the-pump fuel tax to help fund continued transformation to NextGen.

Bolen does not bother to rebut my actual argument, but instead raises the red herring of “aviation system privatization.” Large-scale governance and funding reform of the air traffic control system is something I’ve advocated for many years, and has been carried out in Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, and about 35 other countries over the past 20 years. None of those cases involved turning over the air traffic control system to an outside for-profit company, as Bolen well knows. Instead, they have involved converting the existing ATC provider from a tax-funded government bureaucracy to a user-funded, not-for-profit corporation. In the best model for the United States to consider adapting, Nav Canada, the business aviation community has a seat on the board of directors.

But that’s not what my article proposed as a near-term change. It simply argued that since business aviation uses about 10% of all air traffic control services but provides less than 3% of the system’s revenue (via Bolen’s beloved “pay at the pump” method), it would be a worthwhile symbolic move for business aviation groups like Bolen’s to support a small additional payment whose proceeds could be bonded against to provide $5 billion for much-needed air traffic control modernization. The fee, as proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would be a mere $25 per flight, and it would apply only to jets and turboprops—the kinds of planes that make the greatest use of ATC services. Business jets cost their operators a lot of money – $1,500 to $3,000 per hour just in direct operating costs. So adding $25 per flight to help modernize the ATC system would add a trivial amount to operating costs, but might help repair business aviation’s fat-cat image.

2006 Study: Business Jets and Air Traffic Control User Fees

Reason Foundation’s Air Traffic Control Research and Commentary Archive