Sunday, January 11, 2009

TARP: A Much Bigger Threat Than User Fees?

We've all been stressing these past couple of years about the possibility of our Federal government slapping GA with user fees as a new way to finance FAA. We've collectively speculated about the damage that would cause to the financial infrastructure of personal and business aviation.

But now there is a new enemy lurking, one with what I believe to be a far more dangerous strategy that ultimately could punish GA for nothing. That is House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank's new Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Buried in this language is some even more restrictive rules aimed straight at the "Big Three" automakers who are begging for bailout cash. In this new language is one line that has both GAMA and NBAA on full-blown Red Alert:
3). requires divestment of private aircraft or leases.
That one line in this big, complicated debacle of a "bailout" that the Feds are trying to craft does more damage to the public reputation of GA then anything that has come before it. What it is saying to the public as it's being reported in the traditional media is that ANYONE who flies a private business aircraft is a greedy, overpaid, underperforming weasel. That's the way the automaker CEOs have been described, and after so much BS was slung through the TV sets of America and across the WWW, these CEOs were forced to drive cars from Chicago to Washington DC the last time they came begging.

Of course, you and I know this is all not true...that business aircraft come in all sizes and flavors, and that not everyone that flies a private jet is a greedy weasel. Jim Sinigal, CEO of Costco is the nation's most level-headed, unpretentious and fair CEO, and HE flies in his own private corporate jet [gasp]. Average Joe on the street doesn't know that many companies have already downsized from their Lear to a Pilatus PC-12, and not even Joe the Plumber will have a clue about how cost-effective it is to see clients in three cities in a day by flying a GA plane like my very affordable and efficient 1964 Cherokee 235.

Both NBAA and GAMA – like myself and much of the GA community – are afraid that this public perception of private business aircraft being "excessive" will forever tarnish GA's reputation. Here is what NBAA had to say on the situation:
"According to the press release issued by his office, the [TARP] bill will "require divestment of private aircraft or leases. Congress may be trying to bolster the economy, but enactment of this provision will put the jobs of tens of thousands of hard-working Americans at risk," NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said. "This could devastate the small businesses that fuel and service general aviation airplanes, further harm the manufacturers who are already laying off workers and slowing assembly lines, and take away a tool from companies that need general aviation airplanes to operate to and from the thousands of U.S. communities that have little or no scheduled airline service."
And GAMA also released this:
"Targeting our industry is an unacceptable and counterproductive response to our nation’s economic situation. If passed, this provision will have an adverse impact on our industry and jeopardize high-paying manufacturing jobs. A decision like this would be completely inappropriate at a time when general aviation manufacturers are already suffering from a weak economy. The last thing we need is for Congress to pursue an effort that will ultimately weaken an important domestic manufacturing industry.”
We all know a new President is due in Washington, DC in a few days, and that new leader has a website where he is actually ASKING for your opinion. At change.gov, you can fill out a form and comment on anything. From what I am reading, these comments are in fact stored and registered with his transition team.

Today I went to the Obama Transition Team site and left the following comment:
President Obama:

I was a big supporter of you here in Oregon, and as a private pilot, I know the major aviation advocacy groups supported your candidacy. But there is new language in the latest TARP bill that will cripple an entire industry in this country, that being business aviation.

Many families and companies depend on private and business aviation as their livelihood, and by forcing companies to give up their private aircraft fleets, thousands of jobs would be eliminated for no reason.

Please have someone research this and hopefully you will find that private and business aircraft are not just perks for celebrities, but a needed tool to allow companies to compete nationally and globally. Please, PLEASE have that language removed...why punish the good people in this industry for the greed and irresponsibility of the Bush administration?
While I know my one comment won't change the world, maybe tens of thousands of comments pleading with the Obama team might do the trick. Please go here and ask them point blank to strip the TARP bill of any language that forces anyone to divest their private aircraft fleets.This is really important, go here today and tell the Transition team what you think.

And yes, it could be said that if read exactly as written, this TARP language might mean that ONLY the automakers must divest their fleets. But that's not the way it's being reported, and the public isn't that tuned in to this issue to notice that tiny detail. We must turn this public perception around immediately before it becomes permanent.

I urge NBAA, GAMA and AOPA to pool there resources and produce a slick 30-second national TV spot that specifically explains in no uncertain terms that business aviation is a vital part of our American culture, and not all people who flie GA planes on business are greedy weasels. I certainly am not, I'm getting zero bailout dollars, and I am not about to "divest" my corporate aircraft for anyone.