By: Craig Fuller
Not long ago, President Barack Obama’s press secretary mentioned that the president wants to eliminate “subsidies to corporate jet owners.” It’s a politically popular line in tough economic times.
But it’s wrong.
There’s no subsidy to eliminate and no tax loophole to close. The administration’s inference, made during the campaign and now again, is that general aviation is the province of the rich when, in fact, general aviation serves small businesses and ordinary people as well as big companies.
General aviation is an incredible American success story. It’s a homegrown industry that exports aircraft worldwide and generates 1.2 million American jobs and $150 billion in annual revenue.
These are steady, well-paying jobs located across America. In Indiana, aviation provides 69,000 jobs; in Louisiana, 56,500; and in Kansas, more than 119,000. There are also 304,000 aviation jobs in Pennsylvania and 47,000 in Iowa. In the president’s own state, Illinois, 337,000 people rely on airports and general aviation for employment. One study in Kansas found that each aviation job creates 3.6 additional jobs.
The hardworking Americans who hold these jobs depend on them to buy food, clothes, homes and vehicles, send kids to college and fund retirement.
But many of these jobs could disappear if the president’s proposals become reality.
The so-called business aircraft loophole is actually a depreciation schedule set by Congress in 1986. The administration wants to shift the schedule from five years to seven years to gain a small amount of revenue. But the change would hit the general aviation industry hard by slashing sales while providing what Bloomberg News estimates would be “less than one-tenth of 1 percent” of the president’s target.
And the administration has repeatedly proposed “user fees” for general aviation aircraft to access airports, even though they already pay for these facilities through a tax on aviation fuel.
All this is happening at the same time sequestration threatens to lay off some 2,000 air traffic controllers and close more than 200 contract-operated control towers that handle nearly 30 percent of U.S. aircraft operations. Such closures, even if temporary, could be hazardous to thousands of commercial, general aviation and military flights that rely on controllers to guide aircraft safely through crowded airspace and assist in emergencies.
Ironically, the FAA under Obama has spent more than $15 billion improving public airports around the United States — and $1 billion of that work was done as part of the president’s economic stimulus, according to FAA reports. Yet his administration now wants to restrict the use of these improved airports.
Right now, there are about 600,000 pilots and 220,000 general aviation aircraft in the United States. Most of these planes — about 140,000 — are single-engine, piston-driven propeller aircraft. The organization I lead, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, represents nearly 400,000 dues-paying members who fly and own aircraft. We’ve done that since 1939.
Sure, there are business jets that transport corporate leaders and politicians. But let me punch a hole in the administration’s notion that general aviation is benefiting at taxpayer expense: General aviation business aircraft — large and small — are frequently used to transport engineers, sales and support staff, construction crews and cargo to client meetings, sales pitches and job sites. They also conduct medical flights and bring needed supplies to disaster victims. By any standard, they are generating economic activity, not taking government handouts.
General aviation has had a rough few years, just like other U.S. industries. It might be a convenient political symbol, but grounding a symbol isn’t going to solve the debt crisis or put Americans back to work. General aviation is on the right course; we need to hold that heading.
Craig Fuller is president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.