General aviation sector sees battle looming over fees, no matter who occupies the White House
Business and general aviation leaders are relatively quiet when asked about the U.S. presidential elections, saying both candidates face stark budget choices regardless of who is voted in this November. From an industry standpoint, the worries are less about who wins and more about the tough decisions that will need to be made following the elections.
And while President Barack Obama has had an uneven track record with the industry during his first four years, Mitt Romney has virtually none. Both leave questions about the direction they would take entering 2013.
Speeches early in Obama's term linking corporate jet travel to excess led to pleas from labor, local officials and business and general aviation (GA) industry leaders for the president to tone down the negative rhetoric. Those pleas surfaced again after Obama's June 29, 2011, briefing, when he mentioned millionaires, billionaires and corporate jet owners six times.
â€śWe have certainly seen that President Obama has a blind spot when it comes to the tremendous manufacturing impact general and business aviation brings to our country,â€ť says General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President/CEO Pete Bunce.
GAMA and the other GA groups waged a public relations campaign to improve the industry's image. The various groups agree that rhetoric likening business jets to toys for CEOs had quieted until last week's presidential debate, during which the president reiterated past views and opened old wounds. Eric Byer, vice president of government and industry affairs for the National Air Transportation Association says â€śAny president should recognize the value of general aviation to the community.â€ť
In fact, in an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's Government Affairs survey printed in AOPA Pilot magazine, Obama touts the importance of the industry. He calls the strength of the GA industry â€śa critical pieceâ€ť of economic growth and competitiveness.
On issues, Obama has offered controversial proposals such as the $100-per-flight user fee and an extension of depreciation schedules for business aircraft. At the same time, though, he has backed measures strongly supported by industry, including short-term 100% â€śbonusâ€ť depreciation schedules, increased NextGen funding and a more collaborative approach to GA security.
â€śWe have worked with this administration on several general aviation initiatives,â€ť Bunce notes.
While Obama's first four years could portend the next four, industry leaders have few specifics about Romney's approach. The Republican candidate's focus is on macro issues, providing few clues as to how he would handle major concerns of the industry.
In the AOPA survey, Romney echoes sentiments about general aviation: â€śI understand the immense benefits that this form of transportation provides to Americans.â€ť
A Romney administration likely would slow environmental regulation, such as the push toward unleaded aviation gasoline, Byer suggests, and adds that the Republican platform also may have a â€śpro-businessâ€ť bent.
But industry leaders believe the outcome of the election likely will not sway major industry issues such as the $100-per-flight user fee proposal. â€śOur issues transcend politics,â€ť notes National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen.
Industry leaders know that the president-electâ€”whoever he may beâ€”must tackle unprecedented budget choices with the prospect of the budget penalty known as sequestration, Bolen says.
Sequestration, which mandates an automatic $1 trillion cut over the next decade, is a potential lose-lose situation, he notes. It was set up to be so painful that Congress will make difficult budget choices to avoid it. That is where the $100-user-fee proposal becomes worrisome, he says. Obama remains committed to the fee, telling AOPA that the tax is designed â€śto reduce the deficit and more equitably share the cost of air traffic services.â€ť
But industry leaders do not believe that a Romney win would take the fee proposal off the table. Every administration in the past three decades has proposed some sort of user fee, Byer says. â€śUser fees have been an apolitical topic.â€ť
When asked by AOPA about user fees, Romney offered neither direct support nor opposition.
â€śThere are tough decisions that need to be made, and given what is at stake for GA and our economy, whoever takes the White House, both parties will have to work together,â€ť says Bunce.