Here We Go Again: /USA Today/ Takes Aim at GA

A Sept. 17 front-page story in USA Today has general aviation advocates up in arms. The article, with an accompanying television piece aired on NBC's Today show, advanced the argument that thousands of airports not served by airlines are being unfairly subsidized by airline ticket taxes. According to the print and television stories, airline passengers' fees and taxes are serving just a few private pilots and business jet operators who frequent the airports, which "typically are tucked on country roads and industrial byways." The video segment on NBC featured Air Transport Association (the airline lobby group) President James May decrying taxes on his constituent airlines and their passengers. The FAA's Airport Improvement Program, funded by both airline ticket taxes and general aviation fuel taxes, was cited as spending $18 billion on improvements at some 2,000 "little used" airports. General aviation advocates have fired back with press releases and letters to the editor of USA Today. Representatives from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) have cried foul with the story's numbers. For example, NBAA President Ed Bolen said the USA Today story was "completely devoid of journalistic balance" (none of the general aviation trade groups was quoted) and that reporter Thomas Frank, "completely ignores the fact that congress regularly allocates far more for air carrier airports than for general aviation airports." He specified that, contrary to Frank's reporting, GA airports receiving AIP funding in 2007 received an average of $750,000 compared with $5.5 million for airports served by airline operations.