Today I am posting a column written exclusively for Winter's Soldier Story by an aviation enthusiast who has an insider's view of gas taxation politics as it applies to the aviation industry.
Today we inaugurate an occasional offering From The Flight Deck.
As a pilot I can tell you there is no better feeling than taking off early in the morning from Tampa Bay on a 179 heading to Key West, spending an hour or two in the domain of the Gods, watching your friends stuck in rush hour traffic below, working or relaxing in the Keys for the day, then returning home without even once encountering gridlock or road rage. Days like this are what many of us mean when we say we are living the American Dream.
But the government is working to kill this dream for many who have achieved it, or aspire to it. We are told that the Federal Aviation Administration is in a funding 'crisis' and more money is needed to enhance the air traffic technology system - a process that has been ongoing for years.
So, even though this administration touts itself as being solidly opposed to increased taxes, and wants to enhance opportunities for the small businessman, including those who have discovered that a small plane can open up entire new worlds of business opportunities, the suggested fix is - new taxes, this time by doubling the tax on aviation fuel used by private pilots!
Is this a 'read my lips' moment?
To add insult to injury, we are continually enhancing the air traffic technology system with funds already derived from airlines and passengers paying ever-increasing taxes disguised as 'fees' for one thing or another, every time they buy a ticket.
Could someone explain to me how the government can spend so many years and so much money on air traffic control technology to increase the safety of air travel while reducing the number of people needed to do the job, but still claim to be in a safety crisis and thus needs to increase taxes yet again?
Try that rationale in the business world and see how far you get. Can you imagine the director of IT telling a corporate CEO that even though the IT department has spent tons of additional money to do more work with the same or less staff that they're still coming up short? Well that's the FAA argument.
The government saying that it has been successful in downsizing human costs in air traffic control through the use of enhanced technology, thus it now needs more money, makes about as much sense as saying the French are the best war fighters in the world and we should model our military after theirs!
This would be a good time to fill you in on a couple of important details about flying in America. We have the safest air traffic control system in the world - bar none. To help maintain and improve this system, General Aviation (private) pilots are already paying 30 cents per gallon in taxes on aviation fuel, nearly double the price Americans pay in federal gasoline taxes for their automobile.
But now the government wants GA pilots to pay 70 cents per gallon, a rate that far exceeds the highest automobile gas taxes - state and federal combined - in the country! I should note here, for those whose answer to everything is "tax the rich" that you don't have to be rich to be a pilot or own a plane. You have to be responsible, have dedication, excellent motor skills, depth perception and hand-eye coordination, but the average high-end SUV can cost far more than a good single-engine four-seat private airplane.
So, let's not get into this 'if you can own a plane you have enough money to pay more taxes.' OK?
I have wanted to fly ever since I was a child. My uncle was an F-18 fighter pilot and when I was a teenager he took me to the base at Miramar, California, home of the Top Gun school where he was an instructor, to see that beautiful plane doing "touch and go" maneuvers. I even witnessed a "proper wave off" - a full afterburner climb within 10 feet of the runway. I was so close I could smell the burnt rubber and feel the scorching heat. That experience only added to my desire to fly.
But flying was one of those dreams that seemed as likely as winning the lottery - not because it's impossible, but sometimes life just catches up with you and the next thing you know you have other responsibilities and other priorities. It costs money to rent planes and pay instructors while you study and train for a private pilot's license, instrument rating, and beyond.
But, this is America, the birthplace of flight and if you have a dream, you're one step closer to living it. For me, the dream was there, and the intent was there, so I went out and worked to achieve my dream, complete with multi-engine commercial license with instrument privileges.
But now, through yet another form of taxation, it seems as though the government has come up with yet another way to take away some of our freedoms. As usual, "we the people" didn't get to vote on it either.
Does doubling the taxes on aviation fuel limit the amount of hours some pilots will be able to fly each month? "Tough," says the government, "pay up!"
There is an incredible level of hypocrisy here. The Bush administration says it is working for the small businessman and individual freedoms. But how many jobs will be affected by the reduced hours that many private pilots will fly due to the increased cost of fuel? How many small airports across the country will see less flights, thus less demand for people to do all the jobs that revolve around the aviation industry?
Is this a way to take the ability to fly, unfettered by the limits of highways, traffic and speed limits, out of the hands of the average citizen and relegate it once again to only the rich and privileged? Are we one step closer to being required to obtain permission from the government before heading off to the Keys for a day of work or relaxation?
I recently had a great opportunity to meet with some aviators from an earlier generation, flight crews from B-29 bombers who laid it all on the line for our country more than 60 years ago. These gentlemen were quite eloquent in their reasons for taking such enormous risks back then, so that two generations later people could continue to work in and build this country, on the ground as well as in the air.
The one word they expressed most frequently when asked why they went to war for America was "freedom." It was a pleasure and honor to speak with these heroes, but I could only wonder whether the freedom they spoke of will soon be taxed and regulated to a point where it is only a wisp of a memory in a fading dream.
Sunday, May 06, 2007