The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have released the candidates’ answers (or, more accurately, the campaigns’ answers) to their election questionnaire. One of the interesting points about this questionnaire is that even though John McCain has not articulated an aviation agenda, he/his campaign can draw on his Commerce Committee experience to answer these questions pointedly and with examples. Barack Obama’s answers are vague, inconclusive, and sometimes evasive.
General aviation airports are an important part of the national air transportation system but are often faced with the threat of closure or limits on access. How will you support general aviation airports as part of the national airport system?
If I am elected, one of my top transportation priorities will be to modernize the air traffic control system so it can handle the increased traffic that is forecast. The current system cannot efficiently handle these increases. Gridlock in the sky and on the ground at our airports won’t just result in longer delays for airline passengers, but it will also affect general aviation—especially in the busier airspace around our major metropolitan areas. Under such a scenario, it could become very difficult for pilots to use general aviation airports in that airspace, particularly at peak times. In my view, making better use of the air space won’t benefit just commercial aviation, but general aviation as well.
General aviation produces over a million jobs in America and is an invaluable part of our economy and the lifestyle of American families across the nation. As president, I will engage the general aviation community in the FAA decision making process and take steps, as I did as a state senator, to ensure that government continues to determine how best to meet the needs of general aviation practitioners.
On the controversial subject of user fees, McCain points out that the acrimonious debate is harming all parties. Obama says, well, not much of anything:
Airlines and the current administration have proposed replacing the current system of fuel and ticket taxes to fund the FAA with a user fee-based system assessing fees on each component of a flight. What is your view of how to fund the aviation system?
I am very frustrated with infighting over FAA financing between different parts of the aviation community that has occurred over the last two years. This infighting has resulted in the FAA’s reauthorization already being delayed in Congress by at least a year and I don’t see it getting done anytime soon. While distracted by this fighting, we are losing valuable time that should be spent modernizing the air traffic control system. I hope all aviation interests can work together to develop a consensus financing system that will be robust enough to fund the FAA’s requirements, especially modernization. I fear that it will be very difficult to adequately fund the FAA while the aviation community is in a civil war over funding. The result of such a scenario will be that the whole community loses and one that our country can’t afford.
I believe we must continue to use an appropriate mixture of reasonable taxes and fees to fund the FAA.
On whether or not he supports commercializing or privatizing air traffic control, McCain leans toward no (perhaps closing a door he had left open earlier). But note his clever response: the question asks whether ATC is a core government function or whether it should be privatized. While Obama simply accepts the dichotomy inherent in the question and says no on privatization, McCain refuses to say either/or and instead says that he will not pursue privatization right now because there’s no support for it in the aviation community. He leaves open the possibility that continuing problems in FAA performance may necessitate a change in the future.
Industry observers, think tanks, and some airlines have proposed a variety of management structures for the FAA’s air traffic control system. Do you believe air traffic control is a fundamental government function or should be spun off to the private sector?
I believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that interstate transportation is efficient and safe. We clearly couldn’t leave it up to the states to construct a seamless coast-to-coast air traffic system. Many of these proposals you refer to are the result of frustration with the performance of the FAA and its management of the air traffic control system. These frustrations are the result of genuine concerns about how long it takes the FAA to bring on new equipment and its seeming inability to stay within budget. I am willing to look at ways of restructuring or reforming the FAA to make it perform better, but I don’t think spinning it off to the private section is a viable option since there is little support within Congress or the aviation community for doing so.
I am firmly opposed to privatizing the air traffic control system, and I believe that air traffic control is a governmental function.
When asked about environmental measures they would take that might increase the cost of general aviation, McCain says that he opposes including aviation in his proposed cap-and-trade system, and Obama ignores the question entirely with a discussion of alternative energy:
There has been a lot of discussion about aviation and the environment. Given that pilots are very sensitive to anything affecting the cost of flying, how would your environmental policy address these concerns?
I don’t support the European Union proposal to include the aviation sector in a cap and trade system since it does not offer the level of compliance flexibility that I would offer under my proposal to comprehensively address global warming, the most critical environmental challenge facing the world. However, my proposal also places an emphasis mitigating the economic impact of any cap and trade regime. My proposal would initially allow for unlimited use of offsets. Economic analyses of cap and trade proposals have shown that an increased use of offsets acts to reduce compliance costs. This is consistent with my belief that the market will, if allowed, seek out the most cost-effective solutions.
I believe that the changes required by the economic and security challenge of global climate change represent an opportunity for the American people to once again lead the world in innovation and job creation. I think that pilots across the country agree that our current system with rising oil prices and dwindling long-term supply is simply unsustainable, and I applaud the steps that AOPA is taking to address the long-term energy supply issue. As president, I will invest $150 billion over 10 years into developing clean energy supplies and improving our energy efficiency so that we have both more stable and cheaper energy prices in the future. I look forward to working with the general aviation community, as well as other stakeholders across America, to ensure that we swiftly transition to a clean energy economy.
Read the rest of the questions and answers on the AOPA site here.