AOPA's analysis of FAA proposal: Airlines win, GA loses


When powerful business interests like the airlines lobby Congress and the FAA hard for a change in the law, you know they have something to gain. And someone stands to lose. Recent FAA data make it clear; the losers are piston-engine aircraft owners, pilots, and business aviation. Under the Bush administration’s FAA funding proposal, the “legacy airlines” (American, United, Delta, etc.) would see the amount they channel to the government reduced some $1.7 billion a year. “It’s no wonder the airlines love this proposal so much,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “Not only would they pay less, they’d have more control over who uses the air traffic control system, and they’d have the majority vote in setting the fees they charge themselves and others.” Meanwhile, piston-engine fliers as a group would see their taxes increase $100 million. Turbine-powered GA aircraft would pay an additional $868 million.


Watch THIS 8 minute video about an IFR flight in Europe with user fees. It’s worth your time and it will just blow you away. It did me!


Read this from AOPA

The airlines have begun stuffing seatbacks with anti-general aviation propaganda, right next to the sick bags. AOPA has been anticipating such stealthy maneuvers as the FAA funding debate spools up.

So far, editorials have appeared in two in-flight magazines, Northwest’s NWA WorldTraveler and United’s United Hemispheres, under the headline “Smart Skies,” the namesake of the airlines’ political initiative.

What’s not so smart is the idea a dramatic oversimplification of blaming GA for all their woes, namely air traffic delays. The airlines’ trade organization, the Air Transport Association, has also started running ads on the CNN Airport Network, making the same claims. (They were countered by the Alliance for Aviation Across America.)

“If only it were that simple,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “At the top 10 busiest airports in the United States, the FAA’s own data for all towered airports show that general aviation makes up less than 4 percent of all aircraft operations.”

What are the real culprits? A June 5 front-page story in USA Today said that about 40 percent of the delays were caused by weather. Other factors were late-arriving aircraft, maintenance and crew problems, and flight coordination at airports. The article also said that flight delays are at their worst in 13 years.

Yet the ATC system was created for the airlines. The extensive cost is due to the airlines’ hub-and-spoke system. It makes business sense for them to shift the blame and costs onto somebody else.

AOPA agrees that the system needs an upgrade, also known as modernization, so that a satellite-based system can reduce fuel costs, bolster the economy, etc. GPS is nothing new to the GA pilot. In fact, GA embraced the technology a decade ago. But it’s in the financial details where segments of the industry part ways.

The Government Accountability Office as well as the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation have both concluded that there is adequate money under the existing funding scheme to support modernization.

Seatback literature is currently aimed at corporate aviation, claiming that business jets aren’t paying their fair share. Sound familiar? It’s as if FAA Administrator Marion Blakey had said it herself. Actually, it was Andrea Fischer Newman, Northwest’s senior vice president of government affairs. “Every ticket you buy helps subsidize corporate aviation,” she writes.

The truth is that airline passengers and freight users pay a portion of the total costs of operating the ATC system as a whole, similar to buying a postage stamp. No airline or airline trade group has assured travelers that their ticket prices would drop by even a penny if the airlines got the tax breaks they wanted.

The in-flight editorials try to use sheer numbers present and future to make their case by comparing corporate jets with airliners. What they don’t say is that the airliners fly far more often, exacting a bigger load on the system while imposing a significant cost. Airliners that sit at the gates simply don’t make money.

A bill in the Senate would charge turbine aircraft $25 each time they fly in controlled airspace. AOPA remains steadfast against user fees for anyone, knowing how they can trickle down to all segments of aviation as a bad money-sucking system spirals out of control. See “Euro-Fees Fears” and “A Cautionary Tale.”

“AOPA members are in a unique position. They fly small planes as pilots and pay fuel taxes. They fly on airliners as passengers and pay ticket taxes,” Boyer said. “We’ve always been paying our fair share.”

blaming GA for delays…ya right … lines.html


I can tell you that this fight is going on as we speak. FAA Reauthorization is going on right now in Congress. For the last few years, there is nothing that this Administration would like more than the FAA to be bought out by Lockeed Martin or the like. The FAA is trying to bastardize the Air Traffic Control System, sell it off to a private company, and allow the company to make a profit. In the mean time, they will tell the GA’s that they have to chip in if they want to use the system. (AKA… User Fees!!!) Is safety the most important aspect of ATC, or is it the bottom line, the all mighty $$$$$$$$$$$$.


It’s a shame that the AOPA didn’t listen to the National Air Traffic Control Association when they first bought it to AOPA’s attention. Only when AOPA realized how bad Marion Blakey wants to send us down the river did this become an important issue. (GA Fees)
Want to read more? Go to: The previous ATC Union President (now retired) gives you lots of more details about the FAA’s desire to privatize ATC in the US and many of the FAA’s failures.


Personally, I would rather see privatization of ATC. My vision is probably not the same as FAA’s.

Latest news: this proposal is dead and user fees are not in the house bill.


Question for you? Why would you like to see the FAA privatized? The whole Lockheed/Martin (Lockmart) deal with the FSS should be evidence at how poorly a private company does a job compared to the Fed’s. Did you know Lockheed/Martin is suing the FAA for 177 million dollars because the FAA didn’t accurately estimate labor costs? The FAA in return is suing Lockmart for 9 million for not supplying a good product.

I believe whenever the foxes (US Airlines) are in control of the hen house (ATC system), the only one who wins are the CEO’s. When the Airlines say GA’s pay a fee, then who are you going to complain to? The FAA has made it their mission to erode safety, cut cost, and run the National Airspace System like a business. The problem with that is by cutting labor cost, there are fewer controller’s looking at more aircraft.

Did you know that the starting pay for a controller in the FAA right now has been cut to $8.00 an hour? This is after a four years of college degree? The FAA has exhausted all of those college candidates and are now expanding their employment search to advertising on Myspace, and not even requiring a degree. Bottom line, controllers are retiring. The FAA is trying to hire “B” scale trainees at $8.00 an hour as they treat their existing controllers to Imposed Conditions of Employment, no union contract, 6 day work weeks and it’s only getting worse everyday. Did you know that the FAA cut the “Controller Incentive Pay” to controllers by 20% this year and will keep cutting it 20% until that incentive is gone in four years? HOWEVER, they decided to NOT cut the incentive pay to the supervisors and manager’s who don’t even talk to the airplanes? Did you know that this year my cost of living increase was given to me in a lump sum? Sounds inviting right? No, because as the cost of living goes up, my base rate pay remains the same. When I retire my base rate is frozen, and I won’t get increases to the cost of living until I retire. (so I am falling further and further behind). HOWEVER, they decided to NOT cut the cost of living increases to the base salaries for supervisors and managers (who again, don’t talk to airplanes.) There are many, many examples…

The good news… Stay together and fight for keeping the best ATC system in the world out of Corporate America. I urge you to read from the website on the top of the post, and educate yourself at what the FAA is doing to sell off ATC to the highest bidder. Thank you for the exchange, I would like you hear from you and others about privativation and your views!




If you like the Postal Service you’ll love privatized ATC!


Not that kind of privatization!


Amtrak is another example of how privatization of a government agency will go awry.

ANY kind of privatization would absolutely KILL the system as we know it. You want user fees? Privatize the system! Execs will siphon the existing money out of the system with their fat paychecks, and then cry for help because there isn’t enough money for this and that. You’ll end up paying for METARs, you’ll have to pay for TWEB, ATIS and AWOS broadcasts through a subscription to XM. You’ll have to give your credit card number to the weather briefer, and a flat fee of $12.95 will appear on your bill. Add another $1.00 tax for 100LL fuel. Anywhere they could shake money out of your pockets, they’d do it!

The current system has been in place for decades. Although it has its flaws, it works well


Then which kind? Amtrak? Bankrupt. Conrail? Moribund. Medicare/Medicaid? Fiscally PVS (Persistent Vegetative State).


How about education, water/wastewater, toll roads and light rail, prisons, energy, health care, garbage and recycling. All have been found to run better privately. Government run entities lack free market competition that drives down prices, improves quality and choices, and limits bureaucracy. What if FlightAware was government run?? It’d be heavily taxed, impossible to navigate, and provide no customer service.


Many of your examples allow for competition (toll roads do not). Are you suggesting that multiple entities should control our skies? How exactly would that work? Who would have direct authority when the plane under the control of ABC company conflicts with the plane under the control of XYZ? Controller ABC needs a plane controlled by XYZ to slow for proper seperation… Who controls the navaids?

Energy is a good EXAMPLE of how a system can fail.

Some things are better if left in the hands of the government.


Haha, and i tought you americans had a saying like ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch ?’


This is a copy from the Blog from past National Air Traffic Control Association (NATCA) President Mr. John Carr. May 29th, 2007
I’ll title this "About Face!"
You can say all you want about privatization, but the facts are facts.

"You Asked For It, And You Got It

The nations general aviation pilots are gnashing their teeth due to critical meltdowns of the normally robust flight service station handling they have been accustomed to receiving, and to that, I say:

Tough noogies. For those in the GA ranks who are members of AOPA, thank your president, Phil Boyer for the crappy service you are getting and pray that it is only an inconvenience and not a contributing factor.

You see, Phil was one of the loudest among many shrill voices calling for privatization of all Flight Service Stations a few years ago, and he led AOPA to strongly supporting the initiative on Capitol Hill. Phil spent his member’s money lobbying congress in support of the privatization of Flight Service, fighting the employee unions in the process. NATCA fought it. NAATS fought it. But AOPA cozied up to the Administrator, and armed with her buddy Phils support, Marion Blakey embarked on the largest privatization of government work in history.

Some of the sunshine Marion blew up AOPA’s skirt was a promise that phone calls would be answered in twenty seconds, radio calls would be answered in five seconds, flight plans would be entered in three minutes and urgent pireps would be entered within fifteen seconds.

And how has it turned out? Screwed up with a capital F, if you know what I mean. Long hold times. Dropped calls. Incompetent briefers. Software snafus. Bogus weather reports. And who do you think was the first one to whine and belly-ache? None other than Phil Boyerthe one who escorted all the ugly hookers into town in the first place.

Lockheed Martin, the contractor responsible for the privatization effort, has gone back to the FAA to ask for an additional 10% (or something like 177 million dollars,) alleging the agency lied when they were negotiating the first deal. (Editors note: Hey , LMdont act stupid. You were at the negotiating table with the FAA? And you didnt know they were lying to you??? What are you, in third grade??)

The FAA is pretending to care, although Marion Blakey wouldnt know a flight plan if it bopped her upside her little pumpkin head. Her Deputy Dog, Bobby Sturgell is a lawyer, a pilot and a management drone (or as controllers say, Strike one, strike two, strike three, yer out,) so hes not going to be any help. Maybe they can get some old FSS specialists to bail them out.

And thats precisely what they are going to try to do, along with the tired old Bush Administration formula…a surge in troops. This, from the AOPA website: Pilot complaints have become legion. Hold times are excessive. Pilots who had been on hold for 20 or 30 minutes will sometimes find their call inexplicably dropped. Flight plans aren’t filed into the system. Pilots are routed to briefers who don’t know the local area and can’t find information specific to the pilot’s route of flight. Airport managers can’t file notams to alert pilots to runway closures or lighting outages. Scores of pilots told AOPA that they can’t raise flight service on the radio to get updated weather information or to open or close a flight plan. In the last two weeks, the system crashed three times, with the longest outage lasting more than an hour.

The following Monday, Blakey called in senior Lockheed Martin mangers. They promised a new set of initiatives to fix the problems, including new software updates for the FS21 system, fixing the automated phone switch, offering temporary positions to retired flight service specialists, “surge” staffing to cover peak workload periods, more staff training, and better communication to the pilot community.

So. Boyer the politician and Blakey the politician have screwed this pooch badly. They seriously shafted thousands of FSS employees, shoving many of them out the door just weeks or months from retirement. And now they want these former employees to come in on a temporary basis and bail them out? If you are reading this, and you are ex-FSS, and they offer you a position, do your sense of self-worth and integrity a favor and give them a two word answer that ends with, off.

This debacle represents more documentary proof that Blakey and her cronies have utterly destroyed another component of the worlds largest, safest air traffic control system. The promised savings will never materialize. The bill for privatizing this thing just keeps getting bigger and bigger while the standards and the services just keep getting smaller and smaller. The Marionettes have broken this service so completely that it cannot be repaired, and it will NEVER be as robust as it once was. Maybe its time to rebaseline it, eh, Marion?

Another Blakey screw-up. YAWN Imagine my surprise. Those are more regular than a Metamucil shake with a Fibercon chaser. But what does all this mean? What does it mean for Mom and Pop in their airplane? PLENTY.

The following are comments from pilots who have written to an AOPA BBS to complain about the privatization of Flight Service. Lets eavesdrop on their sorrow, and then check out my closing commentary at the end:

  1. I tried to call FSS this weekend from Austin and got a briefer in Tennessee. what a disaster. I might as well have called my mother. He was totally unfamiliar with airports in Texas, where I was trying to go, facilities here. He was hunting and pecking around his equipment as he tried to put together a decent briefing. I think he was embarrassed. At one point he even said, “I’m sorry. I am not familiar with the airways, airports, and locations of restricted areas in Texas and it is difficult to give you a coherent briefing.” Is this what we can expect from user fees? I usually use the computer, but on this day, the weather was reasonably good. I just wanted a simple weather update and briefing for a 150 mile flight from Dallas to Austin. Geeeessh

  2. There are a couple other threads like this already, but yes - that’s standard service now. You’re lucky you even got to a briefer. The system is a complete useless disaster. When coming home from the ADIZ to Boston last week I had to give up on a decent briefing - the guy didn’t know anything.

  3. I called FSS from Binghamton, NY 10 days ago. I got a briefer in Fort Worth, TX. He didn’t know anything about the NY State area. This is one of the broken promises from Lockheed-Martin, that they would have trained personnel knowledgeable of the areas from which calls were forwarded to remote locations. I wasted 20 minutes on the phone, half of it holding while he could “get me the right info.” The Buffalo FSS which normally would handle calls from the Binghamton/Ithaca/Elmira area is “temporarily” closed slated to be permanently closed soon.

  4. Briefers missed telling me about the fires and the TFR near Waycross, GA a week or so ago. Waycross was very close to my intended route of travel. I learned about it from center controllers and actually landed at Waycross, slightly north of the TFR.

  5. Yes, a failed attempt to contact 1-800-WX-Brief occurred two weeks ago. I was on hold over 10 minutes on a clear blue, 50 mi+ visibility day in the northeast. All I wanted was a NOTAM brief for P-40. I finally gave up and hung up. The “new FAA services” are worse now than ever. They just are not reliable.

  6. This is “deja-vu” all over again! When I was getting my ratings in the late 80s was the first round of closing and consolidation. We used to go in person to the FSS at MLB for briefings. They were great. WX reports were great because of so many knowledgeablew local observers. Then came 1-800-WX-SUXX and it was a disaster at first. They would tell me it was CAVU at MLB when it was pouring down rain. Wait times were so long to close a flight plan half the time they had a SAR inititiated before you could get through. I finally just listed the destination FBO as a contact #, told the people at the FBO to say I was fine when FSS called, and quite even trying to close the flight plans. Here we go again.

  7. I tried to get a briefing at 7am Sunday morning. Beautiful CAVU day. After 5 minutes on hold, I finally gave up. A buddy of mine had a similar experience on Saturday morning. He was unable to close his VFR flight plan after landing because he could never get through to a person - just endless waiting on hold.

  8. A while back someone posted a list here of FSS closings and consolodations. I asked my briefer at that time what was up with the temporary closing at MCN this month. He told me that they would be up at the main office up north training while their equipment was being upgraded. He told me not to worry, I probably wouldn’t even notice the difference.

He was wrong. I was on hold for 12 minutes listening to the music fade in and out before someone picked up. The briefer I got was totally disorganized, didn’t know where DNL was, and said after finally getting my info entered, said: “Now let’s see what comes out when I press the magic button.” Sounded very professional…NOT!

After the weather, I had to ask for TFRs and NOTAMS and ask again for LNOTAMS. Silly me. I thought they came with a standard briefing. I can’t wait for the MCN regulars to get back on the job. (Silly youtheyre never coming back. Thanks again, Phil.)

  1. I tried getting a weather briefing yesterday while I drove out to the airport (KCXO - Conroe, TX). I was on hold for well over 10 minutes. When I got a briefer on the phone, I told her that all I needed was the winds aloft. She asked me if I was aware that the conditions were IFR in the area. I looked again at the clear skies as far as I could see and said that I was not aware. She began pulling up the terminal reports for the surrounding area and sure enough - all clear below 12000. The forecast winds at 3000 were spot on, though.

  2. Last week I filed two VFR flight plans through DUATS for a two-airplane CAP flight. We managed to get the flight plans open ok, but then when approaching the destination airport, both airplanes tried numerous times to raise FSS on the radio to close the flight plans - no response. So, on the ground, we called FSS and got put on hold for so long that we gave up. Finally got through to a nearby tower and had them use their hotline to FSS to cancel for us. Next time we’ll file IFR.

  3. I have had a few days of extreme hold times when calling in for a briefing or just to file a flight plan. I gave up after 17 minutes on hold the other day and just flew home without a briefing. I thought that all of this privitization was supposed to prevent hold times being on the level of this.

  4. If they train pilots to not even try calling that should lower the call volume and hold times.

  5. Have had long holds AND a couple of “we don’t show anything on file” as I’m climbing out of an uncontrolled field… Definitely not the same as what it was. You never know where the FSS is when you call in, and most aren’t familiar with the local area to give good tips on preferred routes as they use to. Guess we had a good thing and didn’t know it, at the time.

  6. Hold for 15 min yesterday for a VFR briefing about North Georgia. I guess some pilots will take off without weather briefing now. Too bad. Never happened to me before.

  7. Could not even get through to Nashville FSS last Friday. Just got a busy signal. I gave up, used the internet to check TFR’s, and flew.

  8. You know…a lot of people complain (myself included) about how the “government” screws things up. Well in a way they did, but in this instance it is the private money-driven company that is screwing things up. I just do not see the reason for the crazy drive to privatize EVERYTHING that is going on in the government today.

  9. The Cessna Pilots Association website this morning shows the wholesale shutting down of the majority of the FSS stations. Grim stuff, that in all likelyhood, will lead to precipitous decline in the quaility of the service.

  10. I have been flying since 1977 and never had to wait more than a minute or 2 for FSS and I live in CA which no doubt has a heavy load. But this week, I had to hangup twice for very long holds (>15minutes)… Is this an intentiona nationwide slowdown? Has Lockheed gone bellyup on this?

  11. Hmmmm, since we are obligated to “get all the related information possible” (my quotes) before conducting a flight, does that mean if we go without getting FSS breifing, and we have a problem, we are hung out to dry?

  12. I’ve gotten to the point that I dont bother calling them anymore. For the last few months, my local FSS (McAlester, OK) has been terrible. A two year old could do a better job then they’ve been doing. I dont have the time to sit on hold for 15 minutes waiting on them to pull their heads out of their a$$es and decide to get around to me. With all the information that is available on the internet now, with DUATS and other Wx and flight planning sites, I get better info and dont have to wait for it. That information, coupled with the in-flight info I get from my 396 makes calling FSS a mute point for me anymore. They can all close down as far as I’m concerned, and LM can choke on it.

  13. I now use exclusively for wx briefing. They are now a qualified weather briefer by the FAA (QICP I think is the acronym). $80 a month and a GREAT product with a lot of data.

  14. I am just sick of the privatization of EVERYTHING that seems to be going on in the government today.

  15. So it may be a bit more expensive to have the separate stations, it also is much more beneficial from a safety/local knowledge standpoint.

  16. I am REALLY ticked at the Bush administration right now and I voted for the guy, twice! (no I was not turning this into a general politics rant, just trying to show that even someone who supported the Prez is getting frustrated with his privatization kick).

  17. Can’t agree more with the OP. . . FSS is indeed broke! I departed Ferguson Field (82J) in Pensacola, FL on Friday evening on my way home to Hampton Roads Virginia (PVG) for the weekend. Planned stop at Anson County North Carolina (AFP) for gas. Departed VFR, but air-filed IFR passing south of Atlanta due to WX. Shot the GPS 34 to mins at AFP at around 2100 local, got gas, and called FSS to file my final leg home. It was my first time using FSS in several months. Upon dialing, I get the voice prompts, choose option 1 for a briefer, then get get asked to “say which state I was departing from.” I remember thinking “wow, this is great, they finally have the whole call routing system thing fixed - I’ll actually talk to the correct FSS (Raliegh) when calling from out of state with my cell phone.” WRONG!!! My first call was routed to a FSS in Arizona! The briefer I spoke and filed with was not only unfamiliar with the local area, but seemed like a non-aviation kinda’ guy fresh off the street and on his first night at the job! I hung up, got in the plane to depart this uncontrolled field, and called FSS again to pick up my clearance (no GCO at this field). Once again stating that I was departing NC, the FSS that picks up this time is in Michigan! This dude also sounded like he was on his first night at work, and was utterly useless to talk to. He had no idea how to get me my clearance. At this point, I hang up with him and look up the direct number to Raliegh FSS in my AOPA directory I keep on my PDA. I try dialing this number for 20 minutes only to get a constant busy signal. I call 800 WX BRIEF once again, state that my departure is from the state of NC to the voice prompt, and this time the FSS I’m connected to is in Washington state! This guy was as useless as all the others I’d spoken to, and could not help me at all. The only thing he did - and it took him five minutes to do it - was find the direct number to the Raleigh FSS. Turned out to be the same number I’d been dialing previously. Still busy. . . By this time, an hour had transpired from landing, and cielings had lifted to around 1,800’. Foaming at the mouth, I took off and circled overhead the airport VFR until I could pick up my clearance from Charlotte departure. This in itself was a problem, as comms were very poor at that altitude. I was prepared to land and spend the night if I couldn’t get my clearance airborne.

  18. IME, service had actually gotten better when LM took over the FSS contract. The initial cadre of employees manning a given FSS were experienced guys that were FAA one day, and LM the next. Wait times were down and I was happy. Now, it seems like all the experienced guys have departed and we’re left with a bunch of rookies running the show.

  19. While I do the vast majority of my flight planning and filing electronically, there are many times - like the other night - where FSS is the only game in town. It’s sad to see how far downhill they’ve gone.

  20. The FAA needs to ask for our money back…for services not rendered.

So, AOPAswing by Costco, get a big pallet full of Kleenex, dry your eyes, and sit right down and have a steaming hot Main Bang Mug full of STFU. You wanted privatized Flight Service Station functions, you got em. You got EXACTLY what you wanted and EXACTLY what the unions warned you about. So shut up about it already, and take your permanently debilitating, self-inflicted, hemmoraging wound like a man.

And remembernext up is user fees (what could it hurt?), and privatization of air traffic control (why not? It worked so well for flight serviceand Marion is trading towers and making promises to bring it home…)

Let history record the following: Phil Boyer helped to lead the privatization camels nose under the FAA tent, and things will never, ever be the same. They will be worse. Much, much, MUCH worse. "



I don’t claim to have all the answers, in fact, I don’t claim to have any. I just know that the success of our country is strongly rooted in free trade. I’m not sure what vision I have that the airspace system could be, but with the whole prospect of the Next Generation ATC, we could make it however we wanted. With new technologies like ADS-B, WAAS and other satelite based navigation, we will have very little use for ground base navaid’s and even for air traffic controllers. I know that sounds far fetched, but a mass network of aircraft communicating among each other isn’t far away. I don’t mind the current system, and with a few improvements I think it could last for many many years, but I think it could be far better.

All this complaining about FSS is getting on my nerves. Sure there might have been things that could have been differently but its like refusing to go to the dentist while your teeth rot. Unfortunately it might have to get worse before it gets better, and I think it will get better.

All this copy and pasting of other people stinky armpit opinion blogs is putting me to sleep. Doesn’t anyone have their own ideas?


An opinion with no answers is short sighted.

This subject that we are on is: AOPA’s analysis of FAA proposal: Airlines win, GA loses

I posted a response from the past Controller’s Union President (now retired) that until AOPA realized that the FAA proposal would harm GA, AOPA would not listen to the Controller’s Union. The union tried to show everyone how unsafe the FAA proposal was. Not until finally realizing what the FAA actually had in mind did Mr. Boyer do an about face. AOPA member’s should know those facts. I tried to show you that four years ago behind the scenes this agency has been trying to cheapen ATC so they could sell it off and make GA’s pay.

No matter how much money is thrown at next gen, when the arrival rate at a major airport is 68 a/c per hour during bad weather, and 89 planes are scheduled to arrive, there is going to be back-ups and delays at the airports. When someone blows a tire and shuts an airport down, or the weather goes below minimums, aircraft want to hold/divert. I could just imagine your reaction when you type in your request to “Space Control”, and they tell you expect a 48 minute delay and tell you to proceed to lat/long coordinates and standby. You send another request to change you destination, their response : Your additional request cost $88.55, would you like to put that on your “Space Control Platinum Visa Card”?

Do you really want to pay a dollar a mile for ATC services, $12.78 for a Visual Approach, $24.50 for a VOR Approach, and $43.99 for an ILS, IFR pick-up $66.41, oops- you arrived after 4pm, that’s an additional $55.86 for prime time. Just keep dreaming about Space Control, and I’ll fight to keep the current US Aviation System the best and safest in the world!

Does a private company have your best interest in mind-or theirs?


That’s a great hypothetical. I could pull an equally optimistic hypothetical out of my arse too. In fact, that’s proably close to the price i pay now to use the ATC system. And yes, I would argue that a consumer driven private organization would have my best interest in mind, at least as much as our politician/ambulance chasing driven government.


Just to pour a little gasoline on the smoldering embers, here’s a story that was in last Sunday’s NY Times

Its Bird Eat Bird in a Cluttered Sky

New York Times
Published: August 26, 2007

THE summer travel season is building toward its Labor Day peak, and fliers are growing ever angrier about delays. Now, the beleaguered airline industry is trying to shift the blame onto an unlikely villain: corporate jets, which the airlines claim are literally crowding passenger planes out of the sky.

In what is shaping up as a smackdown between two of the least popular constituencies out there airlines and corporate chieftains the argument over the delays plaguing airports across America this summer is quickly taking a populist turn.

Its a delicious twist. After all, the airlines themselves have been on the receiving end of populist outrage, especially after delays that stranded passengers for hours in overcrowded airliners. But now the industrys lobbying group in Washington, the Air Transport Association, has charged that the explosive growth of corporate jets is the real culprit.

The reality is that the root causes of the delays are manifold airports with little or no spare capacity, a 1950s air traffic control system and burgeoning demand for direct flights to smaller cities.

And the people who own and use private jets are quick to say that airlines are offering them up as scapegoats.

The vast majority of delays are caused by weather, says Steve Brown, senior vice president for operations at the National Business Aviation Association, a group representing owners of private business aircraft. The airlines have overscheduled everything so if the smallest weather pattern develops, you have cascading delays all day long.

But many independent observers say corporate flights are also responsible for some of the logjam, especially in congested cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Corporate jets may be smaller, but they still take up space, says Steve Danishek, an independent travel industry consultant based in Seattle. Theres just a finite number of slots, and we have no wiggle room left.

The argument over the delays comes down to two kinds of congestion on the tarmac and in the sky.

On tarmacs, planes compete for opportunities to take off and land, often at busy hubs like Miami International Airport. Whats more, the Federal Aviation Administration lacks clear rules giving preference to commercial planes with hundreds of passengers over small jets with just a handful.

First come, first served is the model we use to operate the aviation system, says Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the F.A.A.

So, although corporate jets tend to use smaller airports in the New York area, its possible that a crowded 737 might have to wait for a tiny Gulfstream to take off in Miami or at Dulles, outside Washington.

The users of corporate jets defend this practice, saying they deserve equal takeoff rights. On a business flight, you might have people going to Wall Street from companies who are creating jobs and generating billions of dollars in commerce, Mr. Brown says. People on a commercial flight might be going on vacation or going to New York to go to the theater.

Up in the sky, private jets often occupy the same air paths and rely on air traffic controllers to keep them away from other planes, even if they take off from smaller airports like Westchester and Teterboro instead of LaGuardia or Newark. On a typical day in the airspace over New York, roughly 20 to 30 percent of the air traffic comes from corporate jets, according to David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association.

You can have all the concrete you want its when youre up in the air that you have a space problem, he says.

Mr. Brown, of the private jet group, doesnt dispute Mr. Castelveters estimates of the amount of corporate traffic in the New York area, but he says the actual overlap is very small because the corporate jets are using the different airports and in most cases, different routes.

Michael Baiada, a consultant in airline operations and a Boeing 747 captain for United Airlines, says the airlines must take more responsibility for delays and improve their own internal systems. But he agrees that corporate jets are increasing the strain on air traffic controllers trying to prevent whats known in the industry as an aluminum shower, a midair collision.

A blip is a blip, and all the controllers have is their eyes and their brains, Mr. Baiada says. Theyre doing a great job, but theres already a huge strain on controllers and this just adds one more.

Financial considerations add fuel to the debate. Corporate jets pay a fraction of the taxes and fees that commercial airliners do. The F.A.A. estimates that private planes, which include both corporate jets and weekend fliers, account for 16 percent of the air traffic control systems overhead but contribute only 3 percent of the fees earmarked to run the system.

To stoke populist outrage, the airline lobby has designed an online calculator that lets travelers compare fees. For example, a Boeing 737 flying from New York to Chicago pays $1,356 to the F.A.A.s Airport and Airway Trust Fund, while a top-of-the-line Gulfstream contributes $161. The Air Transport Association has also created a Web-based ad campaign ( featuring a fictional traveler, Edna, complaining about the fee disparity while the computer screen displays waves of corporate jets filling the skies before and after sporting events like the Kentucky Derby and the Masters golf tournament.

Now, with the the financing of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which supplies a sizable portion of the F.A.A. budget, set to expire next month, the debate is shifting to Capitol Hill.

The F.A.A. has proposed altering the fee structure to cover the estimated $15 billion to $25 billion cost of modernizing the current air traffic control system. Its plan, now before Congress, would replace the existing ticket tax with user fees for commercial planes, while sharply increasing the fuel tax for private jets and also hitting corporate fliers with extra charges to land at any of the countrys 30 most congested airports.

It is this change in the funding formula that set off the conflict between the airlines and the private jet owners. Corporate jet advocates like Mr. Brown accuse the airlines of using the delay problem to deflect blame and hit them with the bill for upgrading the system.

You can talk about airplane numbers, but the airlines are in the air a lot more than we are, 10 times as much, Mr. Brown says. The airline industry, he says, is spending more time pointing fingers than fixing its own problems. Independent experts like Mike Boyd, an aviation industry consultant, say both sides are ducking the real issue. Its like arguing over the bar tab on the Hindenburg, Mr. Boyd says. The air traffic control system is out of date and broken down but neither side wants to pay to fix it.


I saw that story last weekend and found a couple of things interesting. First, the airlines originally tried to blame both small (mostly piston) general aviation planes as well as corporate jets and shift the costs on to both. They have now appeared to shift all of their firepower to corporate jets.

Second, the assertion that the crowding is primarily in the air as the ATA spokesman cites in his quote, is just plain wrong. When the weather gets bad there can be some enroute and approach bottlenecks, but that just isn’t the real issue. As AOPA said recently:

“That’s a surprising pronouncement coming from an airline industry insider,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “Congress, the FAA, and the entire aviation community have long recognized that runway capacity is the major factor limiting the ability to deal with the exploding numbers of airline flights at hub airports.”

Simply put, there’s a lot more room for aircraft in the three dimensions of airspace than the two dimensions of a limited number of runways. Pick any spot in the airspace, and you can have an aircraft at 1,000 feet, another at 2,000 feet, a third at 3,000 feet, etc. Pick any spot on the runway, and you can have exactly one aircraft there under the laws of physics and FAA regulations, Boyer said.

If it’s not about the runways, why did the number of delayed flights at Atlanta drop 3 percent after the addition of a new runway in 2006?

If it’s not the runways, then why is more runway capacity the critical element of the FAA’s Operational Evolution Partnership to meet current and future air traffic demands?

“Since fiscal year 2000, FAA has provided about $1.7 billion in AIP (Airport Improvement Program) funding to increase capacity and decrease delays at the most congested airports in the country. These 13 new runway projects have provided these airports with the potential to accommodate 1.6 million more annual operations,” FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in testimony before Congress in May.

And if it’s about the airspace, why didn’t airline delays decrease noticeably in 2005 when the FAA doubled the amount of airspace available to airliners? That was the first year of RVSM (reduced vertical separation minima) in domestic U.S. airspace.

If you need any further evidence of the capacity of runways, look at the schedule below for one tiny segment of time at Chicago O’Hare International and ask yourself, how can 59 aircraft possibly arrive and depart in 14 minutes, unless it’s in a universe where the amount of concrete doesn’t matter.