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Who Pays for Private Jet Services?

Cindy Loose

The government has spent about $7 billion upgrading general aviation facilities -- those wee airports used by private planes, including corporate jets and charters, according to a new analysis by the Associated Press. Where does the money come from?

Most comes from federal airport improvement grants, a fund that is fed from airline ticket taxes paid by passengers flying commercial aircrafts.

Seeing AP's figures, the Lexington Herald-Leader took a look at a Kentucky general aviation facility that has gotten $12 million in federal airport improvement grants since 2001, the Kentucky paper reports. Thanks apparently goes to U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers. The Republican who sits on the House Appropriations Committee uses the airfield for trips home. How many flights does the airport serve? At the height of the summer season, maybe 25 a week.

Airlines have been crying foul for some time, and Congress will decide later this year whether to end the subsidies. Then again, supporters of the small airports say they're vital to the economy. Like, corporate executives are less likely to locate in a small area if they can't get in and out quickly, and the airports are handy for last-minute delivery of factory parts.

What, oh what, should Congress do?

By Cindy Loose |  April 17, 2007; 10:10 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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Those general aviation airports are often referred to as reliever airports. They allow smaller aircraft destined for a particular city to stay out of the way of the big iron going into the big airports, RELIEVING traffic congestion. Airlines would much prefer I land my six-seater at Gaithersburg, rather than Dulles. The bigger reliever airports also provide alternate landing sites when severe weather has socked in a particular destination.

I pay roughly $4.00 an hour in fuel taxes to use the National Airspace System. On an average 3-hr flight (say, to Cape Cod to visit my wife's parents), I'll pay $12.00 to ask for the privilege of taking off from Gaithersburg, then once I'm out of the ridiculous post-9/11 DC-area airspace (which was causeed by airlines, but they want ME to pay for it), that's it--no more impact on the system. $12.00 for about 30 seconds of conversation. Mind you, this is an air-traffic-control system that was created because of airlines, but they demand that I pay -quote- my fair share for it -endquote-. Well, if it were up to me, it would go away completely. I don't need it.

The US benefits from a diverse aviation industry that supports more than just cattle-car airlines.

Posted by: aDCpilot | April 17, 2007 11:22 AM

How about having the users of the airports pay for them? If states to subsidize the cost to attract industry, the states should pay for it out of their transportation budget.

Posted by: Tom | April 17, 2007 11:57 AM

God this is a dumb story. As the first poster mentioned, this is HELPING big airports by taking the pressure off of them and having general aviation not use up a slot that could be used for something larger.

It's like the stickers on the back of the metrobuses--what would you rather have in front of you, one bus, or 45 cars? Well, what would you rather have in front of you landing at Dulles? One 747, or 400 Cessnas?

This story is like a bad email urban legend.

Posted by: Andrew | April 18, 2007 8:49 PM

Make it simple then. Give those paying a choice:

1) continue having your fees go to support small airports that are subsidized by your fees.

2) stop subsidizing the small airports and have your delays increase as you allow small planes to tie up busy large airports

3) have fees go to improving services at the large airports for large planes (that service most of the people and pay most of the fees)

4) reduce the fees keep the amount being spent on big airports at the level it is now and cut subsidies to small airports.

I think most people would chose 3 or 4. I imagine most people that have been getting big subsidies for their small plane travel would choose to keep taxing others to subsidize themselves.

Since Congressmen benefit from flying on their buddies small planes and get big checks from those same buddies I would guess that funding will continue to subsidize them at the expense of the mass market flying public.

Posted by: John | April 18, 2007 11:47 PM

John,
What's missing from 3 and 4 above is that an improvement at a large airport (a new runway, approach system, or terminal facility) might cost several hundred million dollars or more. The same thing at a reliever airport would cost several hundred thousand dollars.
If substantial improvements cost 500x up to 1000x the price at the air carrier airports, let's look at how many people use each one. Dulles and National (according to MWAA) see 60,000 and 50,000 passengers per day, on about 800 and 750 flights. Frederick and Manassas, two popular reliever airports in the area, see 440 and 340 flights per day, and probably about 1,000 people. So the benefit per person is actually higher at a small airport.

Posted by: Joe | April 24, 2007 11:56 AM

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