There has been lots of talk in the recent few weeks about FAA funding. There are many good points made in the postings, but lots of data and statistics are missing from these conversations. Let's review what we've got on the table thus far. There are three major players in the debate.
Here are the facts from the airline perspective (ATA):
> Airlines and their passengers pay 94% of the taxes and fees that support the ATC system
> Airlines account for 68% of the traffic in the ATC system.
> "A blip is a blip." Each blip on the screen should pay the same amount for ATC system use.
> Learn more at http://www.smartskies.org/LearningCenter/faa_funding/
Here are the facts from the business jet perspective (NBAA):
> Business jets don't fly into the big airports, and therefore we shouldn't have to pay the same amount as airlines
> It is the big hubs that drive much of the ATC system's costs
> Smaller planes require fewer dollars to control.
> User fees (of any sort) would compromise safety.
> Learn more at http://web.nbaa.org/public/govt/userfees/
Here are the facts from the recreational aviation perspective (AOPA):
> New ATC charges (of any sort, including an increase in the existing gas taxes) will damage the GA sector
> ATC cost increases in other parts of the world have been damaging (Europe)
> Safety would be compromised by a change in how FAA is funded.
> Learn more at http://www.aopa.org/faafundingdebate/
One thing all the groups agree upon is the need to modernize the ATC system. What they can't agree upon is who should pay for modernization, and what a "fair share" really represents.
The airlines' strength is that they're fundamentally correct that they (and their passengers) pay the lion's share of the ATC system. This is proven by FAA's March 2007 study entitled "Cost Allocation of the ATC System." It can be found here: http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=8147. Notice the chart halfway down the page, which attributes 73% of traffic to "turbine commercial" activity. "Turbine commercial" refers to airplanes flying in the ATC system (ie. IFR) who are powered by turbine engines and involve a financial transaction. Therefore, this category includes airlines and any business jet/turboprop which was hired for service. If you speak with FAA (and this isn't on their web site) you'll learn that the 73% breaks down to 68% airline and 5% business-jet-for-hire.
Additionally, the cost allocation study indicates that an additional 10% of traffic comes from "Turbine General Aviation." This would be an aircraft owned by a corporation, which is NOT for hire. So the Nike corporate jet (N1KE for you afficionados) would fit into this category.
One of the key topics of debate in a.net threads is the airport that these aircraft use (and this gets to NBAA's key point.) The reality is that it costs FAA an average of about $440 to move each IFR operation through the system. (source: FAA OEP 2005). ARTCC controllers in Cleveland Center don't use different procedures to handle the transcontinental G-IV or the transcon 767. I would content that airport selection is irrelevant. This can easily be proved by watching this simulation: http://www.smartskies.org/ATA/images/NYBOS/nybos.html which shows traffic departing from Boston and New York ARTCC areas, bound for Jacksonville and Miami ARTCC areas. What's particulary notable about the simulation is that it was recorded at a peak time - President's Day weekend.
Business jets (and those who fly them) are no different from airline passengers; they need to fly at premium times such as Monday morning, Friday afternoon and around holidays. So while it is true that airlines are the predominant users of the ATC system on an annualized basis, it is also true that GA turbine traffic spikes at those key times.
When thinking about AOPA's claims, it is important to note that piston-powered airplanes have been asked to pay a few cents more for their gas tax, but have been EXEMPTED from other ATC user fees of any sort. Recently, AOPA has been complaining about the service their members have been receiving from Lockheed Martin's Flight Service Stations. As a GA pilot in the Washington, DC area, I can attest that AOPA's claims are not unfounded.
However, I believe that you get what you pay for. How can AOPA complain that service is sub-par and then ask for improved service without a correlating increase in price? I spend about $100 an hour to operate my plane (N20155), and a typical itinerary (300 miles roundtrip) for me would require that I pay about $6 more per flight. If FAA can carry through on their modernization plans, this $6 would be a wise investment on my part; one that I would happily make.
This brings up the final topic I would like to mention: governance of the ATC system. FAA has spent around $38 billion to modernize the system since 1984 (check out http://www.reason.org/airtraffic/ for Bob Poole's excellent analysis of this issue, and many others). The reality is that past modernization efforts have been dreadful. Part of the reason is that the users of the ATC system don't have a seat at the decision-making table. By giving users (both airlines and general aviation) a fair "say" in modernization decisions, we stand a much better chance of getting our hands on a new ATC system (FAA calls this NextGen.) Local Congressional concerns have driven ATC's infrastructure decisions over the years, which hasn't necessarily resulted in the most efficient expenditures of funds.
At the end of the day, the airlines (and their pax) will continue to pay the most for use of the ATC system. And that makes sense, given their operations. But the reality here is that if you believe that everyone should pay their fair share, some change is in order. I would welcome any discussion of "facts" or statistics...