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NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, joined by AOPA´s Phil Boyer and Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, took to the podium for a panel on the fight by general aviation to resist user fees. Bolen reminded everyone present that the current campaign to pillage the pockets of business aviation was formally and publicly launched by the airlines at a press conference on March 8, 2006. In the roughly 18 months since Roll Call, the respected Capitol Hill newspaper, estimates, the airlines´ lobbying effort has spent some $ 11.2 million to get its message across and win hearts and minds, not just in Congress, but among the general public.
The goal of the campaign, according to all three gathered advocates, is to shift up to $ 2 billion in taxes from the airlines to business aviation, and gain control of the air traffic control apparatus in the U.S., eventually squeezing out the use of private and company aircraft. Bolen said the attack is three-pronged: Vilify general aviation as "fat cats" and "bigwigs" who crowd airport runways with tycoons off to play golf; divide and conquer by suggesting to the AOPA that it was just NBAA members the airlines were targeting; and to distort the truth in a flurry of advertising that has appeared everywhere from airports to seat-pocket magazines.
The AOPA isn´t buying, said Boyer. "We looked at user fees elsewhere, and they don´t work," he said. Furthermore, he pointed out that 57,000 of AOPA´s more than 400,000 members fly turbine aircraft that put them squarely in the sights of the airlines. His organization has asked members to target their own government representatives. "We´re not trying to get the [entire mass of] American people to understand," he said, calling the problem too complex and too big for the average person to understand.
Shilad claims 3,616 member organizations under the AAAA banner, and those figures are growing. Within the list are agricultural and rural or small town interest groups together with unexpected allies such as sections of the coal industry. She cited successes in targeting media and government to get the message across.
Now that the House has approved H.R. 2881 as a user-fee-free bill, attention now turns to the Senate version, which is volatile. With funding authority for aviation due to expire on September 30, a conference committee won´t have much time to iron out differences. An extension similar to a continuing resolution could push the date out to December. Meanwhile, Bolen says the airline attack will be relentless. "It´s not about to go away now," he said. "The fight is on. The fight is now."