One aspect of Washington's war on general aviation that not many of us are really thinking about is how proposed massive increases in user fees and fuel taxes will drive a dagger right through the heart of the U.S. flight training industry. AOPA is projecting the fuel tax increase to be as much as 366 percent, and of the thousands of people who have written Congress on behalf of the GA community, this pilot who wrote Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) hit the nail squarely on the head:
"Increased fuel taxes and cost related to air traffic control services would cause enough pilots to quit flying that it would start a downward economic cycle. Airplanes would be parked. Aviation service providers would lose customers and begin to fail. Jobs would be lost."But the same pilot really struck gold when he added this great observation about what the Bush/FAA user fee scheme could do to flight schools:
“It [the proposed tax increase] would make it hard for the airlines to find new pilots. It costs an aspiring airline pilot $70,000 or more to train to reach the FAA-mandated minimum experience. The proposed fuel taxes and user fees would effectively double the cost of training to an estimated $150,000. It would be impossible for enough pilots to train for [airline jobs] if these fees are enacted."Well said.
I had not yet performed proper dot connection on this aspect of the horrible user fee idea. The writer is correct with his assumption that the doubling of training fees will indeed shutter many schools. It is already wildly expensive to earn the proper ratings and certificates just to gain the privilege of being able to drag down really low wages as a first-year FO with one of the regionals who like to hire fresh young faces right out of school and pay them dirt wages because they know the newbies must build time.
So if we are not successful in fighting off this new attack from Capitol Hill, I really believe it could hit the flight schools hard. Let's say the “toxic mix” – as NBAA calls it – of user fees and increased taxes cause student starts to drop substantially...where does that leave the airlines? And yes, that is the same airlines – along with the ATA – that are lobbying hard for these crazy FAA funding “changes” in the first place. Where do they think those newbie FOs are going to come from? Certainly not the nation's flight academys...the same schools they helped to board up.
If the airlines cause a self-inflicted shortage of line pilots, who will fly their planes? Two choices are you...and me. Now I can't speak for you, but I've greased a few nice landings flying a CRJ-700 in X-Plane, so maybe when the carriers price all the new recruits out of the market, they can just resort to “do it yourself” commercial air travel. Hell, hand me the keys and fill it full of gas, people and suitcases. All I really need are the rotation, pattern and fence speeds and theoretically I should be able to aim it at a runway, firewall the FADEC and plow through the clouds on my way to what will most likely be a really dramatic landing.
Or, we can kill this user fee idea now and leave the flying to the pros.