Does the FAA Care about the Little Guy?
The FAA’s handling of a variety of prickly issues from the planned closures of scores of contract control towers to the hotly anticipated Part 23 rewrite to the up-in-the-air fate of leaded aviation gasoline will affect general aviation in important ways for years to come. Get the Part 23 rewrite right, and we could witness a resurgence in GA flying; get it wrong, and we might inadvertently put the industry into a graveyard spiral. Likewise, if we stand firm against ill-informed environmental groups and create viable long-term alternatives to 100LL avgas, the future of general aviation flying can be a bright one; if we allow the EPA to run roughshod, we might very well be regulated out of existence.
In other words, the actions the FAA takes now to protect general aviation will have a lasting impact on our ability to pursue our flying passions and preserve GA for future generations. While we all expect the FAA to look out for our best interests, a growing body of evidence suggests the agency isn’t sufficiently focused on our long-term survival.
Take the contract tower debacle as a case in point. Before the FAA made its unilateral decision about which towers to close, the agency never talked to pilots. The only factor it took into account was the total number of commercial operations at a given airport. It wouldn’t matter if a certain airport had 500,000 general aviation movements a year – if it didn’t see a requisite minimum number of airline flights, the contract tower was put on the chopping block.
The FAA was forced to backtrack in some cases after safety concerns arose, but the message the tower closure mess sent was clear: The current leadership at the FAA cares far more about commercial air travel than general aviation, and these leaders certainly don't expect they will have to explain themselves to rank-and-file GA pilots. In fact, when asked who the FAA’s “customer” is, Administrator Michael Huerta told lawmakers at a House hearing recently it is airline passengers, plain and simple. The guy in the Cessna Skyhawk or Learjet 45 doesn't make the cut apparently.
Instead, there is ample proof that the flier in the Learjet can expect little better than open disdain from the FAA, as evidenced by the words and actions of the president, who seems to revel in bashing “fat cats” and their private jets. As a form of punishment, President Obama wants business jet travelers to pay $100 per flight in what can only be described of as a kind of corporate speed bump to ensure the rich don’t have it too easy. After all, the White House’s user fee proposal isn’t really about the money. If it was, the administration would be pushing for an increase in aviation fuel taxes. The fee, instead, is about restricting access to the skies for a class of flier who benefits from certain "unfair" advantages.
Incredibly, the situation faced by the piston GA segment is even more dire. Unlike the upper echelons of business aviation with the money and political clout to push back at every turn, we’re struggling just to survive. General aviation deserves an FAA that is on our side every step of the way and has our back when we come under attack. Instead, in too many instances we seem to face a bureaucracy that is focused almost entirely on the well-being of airline travel and barely at all on the best interests of general aviation.
Maybe that assessment is too harsh. Maybe the FAA really does care about the little guy. But we can only go by what the FAA Administrator says and does. And so far he has said and done very little to make me believe otherwise.