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"Aviation lobbyist: Budget woes can harm Napa airport"



Saturday, August 31, 2013

Aviation lobbyist: Budget woes can harm Napa airport
By Peter Jensen
The Napa Valley (CA) Register


What happens in Washington, D.C., can have ripples reaching far and wide,
impacting both the Napa Jet Center and the Napa County Airport.

That's the message National Air Transportation Association President Tom
Hendricks brought to a Napa town hall meeting Wednesday hosted by the Napa
Jet Center. His organization represents aviation service businesses across
the U.S. such as the Napa Jet Center.

A clear example of how national policy decisions can filter down to Napa
County was Congress enacting sequestration cuts earlier this spring,
Hendricks said.

The airport's air traffic control tower was identified by the Federal
Aviation Administration as a potential target for closure as the federal
agency determined how to grapple with a 2 percent across-the-board spending
cut.

The tower ultimately stayed open, as it's operated by FAA staff, but another
approximately 140 towers operated under FAA contracts were slated to close.

Hendricks said his organization helped lobby and work with the FAA to keep
those towers open, but the solution was to take money from the agency's
airport improvement fund. It's a stopgap solution, as the funding runs out
Sept. 30, which is the end of the federal fiscal year.

If the FAA kept taking money out of the improvement fund for operations, it
would be a detriment to long-term investments in airports and aviation
infrastructure - which could also impact the Napa County Airport, he said.

For example, last fall the airport sought approval through a ballot measure
to lift a voter-imposed weight restriction on the airport's main runway, a
necessary precursor as the airport plans to seek FAA funding to replace the
runway.

"It was a good Band-Aid," Hendricks said of the short-term funding fix. "But
in the long-term we're just robbing Peter to pay Paul. We've got to keep
investing in all of our transportation needs."

That led Hendricks to a broader point: Americans need to clearly define the
expectations they have of their government, and then decide how to pay for
that.

"As a country, we haven't figured out what we want the role of government to
be," Hendricks said.

The FAA should be included in that discussion, he said. The agency is
considering whether to re-organize its structure, and as part of that effort
may change its revenue streams.

It could go from a tax on fuel to a flat fee structure, which Hendricks
doesn't support. He said he didn't want to see pilots of small aircrafts put
in situations where they might have to decide whether it's worth the cost to
use air traffic control in their flights.

In inclement weather, that could be dangerous, he said. His organization's
preference is to keep the existing system, and engage the FAA on whether to
increase the tax on fuel.

"When the weather is not great, we don't want pilots to think before take
off, 'Should I spend $100 to contact air traffic control?'" Hendricks said.
"We think it may have a negative impact on safety."

He said the federal government has proved willing to listen in the past.
Last year, the Internal Revenue Service announced it was reclassifying the
agreements that companies that own aircraft charter services have with the
third parties that operate the service. It would go from a private
arrangement to being considered a commercial relationship, subjecting it to
federal taxes.

Hendricks said his organization lobbied against the move, fearing it would
hurt business owners' bottom lines. The IRS eventually agreed, he said.

"It made some of these business plans very shaky," Hendricks said. "We just
kept having very good conversations with senior IRS officials. I want to be
solution-oriented."

Hendricks also acknowledged a need for a new generation of pilots to become
interested in flying, and to engage in these policy issues. Napa County lost
some of that with the closure of the Japan Airlines training facility and
program, he said.

"We need young people to be inspired," Hendricks said. "I want to make sure
we're passing this on to the younger generation."

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