View Point - The Summer Of Our Discontent
Category: World Aircraft Sales Magazine Columnists
Author: Gil Wolin
The Summer Of Our Discontent
September marks the end of summer, and there were very few of Nat King Cole’s “lazy, crazy, hazy days” to be found this year. “Madness” was more like it.
It began with the notice by the FAA to eliminate the decade-old Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. Exceptions would be made for those with “valid security concerns”. That set off a season- long debate between the DOT and an industry coalition of NBAA, AOPA and EAA, who were joined by various senators as well as the ACLU, in their efforts to preserve BARR. The jury – DOT – is still out on that one.
July found our industry the target of President Obama’s relentless attempts to make corporate aviation the poster-child for government’s failure to reduce the nation’s deficit.
Then there was the shutdown of the FAA, thanks once again to Congress’ inability to reauthorize the budget and its extended deficit ceiling brouhaha. After a two-week partial shut down, some 4,000 FAA workers and 70,000 construction workers returned to their jobs, under the aegis of a Senate-approved, House-passed short-term extension of the FAA’s Authorization on August 5.
This has become an annual celebration of Congressional indifference to aviation safety – the FAA has not had a long-term funding plan since 2007. Lost in this kafuffle is the fact that Congress has completely subverted the Airport and Airways Act of 1970. That Act created the ticket, fuel and other excise taxes.
It was intended to build a trust fund, to pay for system navigation improvements. It was modified in 1976 to include funding for system improvements, such as concrete and other airport capital improvements. Then it began to raid the trust fund to cover the FAA operating budget, enabling it to divert allocated operating funds to someone’s favored pork project. Now, when there’s an FAA budget issue, the political argument moves to whether or not to charge user fees – ignoring the fact that the entire country benefits from a safe, healthy and modern system of airports and airways.
But that’s old news: the trust fund and its intended investment in our NextGen aviation system are but faded memories - yellowed pages in a scrapbook. Now, when Congress returns after a well-deserved Labor Day holiday, it will have until September 16 to pass yet another new extension.
That’s easier said than done during the summer of our discontent. As of this writing, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has given every indication that he’ll be taking a hard line on negotiations on FAA reauthorization. A group of Democratic senators have urged House Speaker John Boehner to work toward a multi-year reauthorization for the FAA – let’s hope cooler heads prevail here at last.
This summer was indeed madness, particularly in light of the most recent report released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Our industry billings fell by 22.3%, to $7.3 billion in the first half of 2011 compared to 2010, while aircraft shipments fell 15.5% from 936 to 791. The steepest decline was in business jets, as deliveries fell 26.5%.
Flight activity went south for the summer, too, after moving up for most of the year. Aviation data and audit company Argus reported that U.S. business aircraft flight activity dropped 2.2 percent in July 2011, compared with July 2010, due primarily to an 8.6 percent drop in Part 135 charter flying according to data compiled by its TraqPak program. Flying had been increasing for most of 2011, coming from growth in Part 91 and fractional mid- and large-cabin flying, which more than offset all light jet and turboprop declines.
This particular September marks more than the end of another summer. A decade ago “9/11” was burned into our hearts and minds. That day, civilian aircraft were turned into weapons of war, and our means and methods for ensuring aviation security forever changed.
Fortunately, even as days grow shorter and the leaves begin their annual autumnal burst of color, there are other, less ominous September traditions and observances…
“The first meeting for all cross-country candidates will be held on Thursday, September 1 at 10:00 A.M. in front of the boy’s gym. At that time equipment will be issued and the first official practice session will be held. I hope that you are making some effort to be in good condition and will be a strong contender for a place on Millburn’s first cross-country team.”
I first read the above words on the back of a 4-cent postcard 45 years ago, now yellowed with age in a scrapbook. I read them again last month, on the back of a 29-cent postcard sent by one of those 1966 team-mates. I had indeed labored all summer to make sure I was prepared to run well during that inaugural season. What I had not prepared for was the friendship that develops among people who strive together, as individuals and as a team, to achieve a common goal.
The postcard reminds me not only of that valued friendship, but of the similar shared bond that inspires all of us in aviation to work together to keep our industry healthy, and to keep those we fly safe.
Gil Wolin draws on almost forty years of aviation marketing and management experience as a consultant to the corporate aviation industry. His aviation career incorporates aircraft management, charter and FBO management experience (with TAG Aviation among others), and he is a frequent speaker at aviation, travel and service seminars. Gil is a past director of the RMBTA and NATA, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Corporate Angel Network and GE Capital Solutions-Corporate Aviation. Gil can be contacted at email@example.com