Terra Sigillata

Bear with me. I’m posting this on ScienceBlogs because many of us have had our own beefs with the US airline industry. Many readers also travel around to conferences and, as a result, must use a US airline. Hence, this really is a science-related post.

But pardon me if I am suspicious of anything represented by an airline that is purported to be in my best interest.

This came in today from Delta Airlines – you know, the one Janet pointed out has a breast-feeding aversion:

Providing the highest quality service to our customers is the guiding principle in everything we do at Delta. But it is difficult for us to provide the level of service you deserve when air traffic in the United States is controlled with pre-WWII methods and technology.

Within a decade, traffic delays will cost the economy $40 billion a year, and you, the customer, a great deal of wasted time. There will be 85% more jets in the sky in the next 15 years–an increase driven largely by corporate jets, fractional jets, air-taxis and very light jets. To an air traffic controller, a jet with a celebrity or a CEO takes as much effort as a commercial flight with 250 passengers. However, the current system is funded almost entirely by the airline ticket tax, meaning that you are paying for nearly 95% of the air traffic system while corporate and private jets get a free ride!

You can help make a difference! Please contact your Congressional representatives and ask them to:

  • Quit forcing you to subsidize corporate jets through the current unfair ticket tax
  • Support a new cost-based ATC finance structure that will fund the system fairly and enable the FAA to modernize our aging ATC system
  • Working in a partnership with other airlines, we will do everything we can to continue to improve upon the customer experience. For more information on this initiative, called “Smart Skies,” go to smartskies.org/delta. We can make a difference!

    So, airline congestion is due to an increase in small jet traffic (not the increase in passenger jet traffic??) and I am supposed to ask my Congressperson to right the wrongs of the airline ticket tax. I certainly don’t dispute Delta’s estimate that private jets outnumber passenger jets 2 to 1. But I’m not sure if the e-mail is imploring me to request that private jets be subjected to some sort of similar tax or whether Delta wants me to request that the airline ticket tax be repealed so I can pay $6 instead for a moldy snack box or a $5 beer. I guess I don’t understand the request since the ticket tax supports air traffic control services (although I thought the federal government covered that since Pres Reagan was able to fire striking air traffic controllers in 1981.) What is true is that we pay a 7.5 percent tax plus $3.50 per domestic airline ticket.

    The Smart Skies funding calculator does however indicate that corporate jets do pay a tax, just not as much as a commercial aircraft. I compared the taxes paid by a commercial Boeing 737-700 with that of a Cessna G750 traveling from New York City to Ft. Lauderdale. The Boeing pays $1,506 while the Cessna pays $134 for a corporate flight ($982 if it’s a charter flight).

    Considering that a Boeing 737-700 has 128 seats, a fully-loaded aircraft pays $11.77 per passenger. Assuming the Cessna has about 10 passengers, they pay $13.40 per passenger for a corporate flight but $98.20 if it’s a charter flight. Delta’s point, though, is that the Cessna requires as much air traffic control attention as the larger passenger jet. Perhaps. But I’m not exactly convinced there is a huge disparity here.

    I guess my bigger concern is what the motivation might be for the airlines to care about revamping this tax system. The air traffic control system does seem to be outdated and not make use of technologies often available on most aircraft – these issues seem to be reasonable to update. However, the focus of this campaign on the airline tax smells bad to me.

    I’m willing to be corrected but I don’t think I’ll be writing any letters or making any phone calls to Washington.

    Comments

    1. #1 Markk
      August 1, 2007

      This is almost total BS designed to get general aviation to take the load off the airlines with user fees. Check with the Eaxperimental Airline Association for more info on this ongoing campaign of disinformation by the airlines. They actually are the ones overtaxing the system, and they don’t want to pay for it. The general aviation fund already has many billions of dollars that never have been released because, even though they are in a “separate account” they count as income in calculating deficits. Which means they might as well be general revenue. The growth in flights from rich people… yah hey. Small commercial jets won’t even be using the same airports as the big boys to avoid the landing fees.

    2. #2 Abel Pharmboy
      August 2, 2007

      Markk, do you mean the Experimental Aircraft Association? I’m having trouble finding the link to which you refer. If you have it, please post it here so we can hear from the other side of the issue.

    3. #3 Liz
      August 2, 2007

      The Economist addressed this issue in a recent article. They basically explained that the current system – which dates from the 1950s – is organized into “lanes” and relies on fixed radio beacons on the ground. The industry would apparently like to switch to a GPS-based system, which would allow for more precise aircraft positioning and thus make it possible for more planes to use the same air space. It would also allow for more direct flight paths, and thus save fuel – although I imagine that if it leads to a huge increase in the number of flights, we’ll see a net increase in fuel use and emissions.

      The article notes that paying for the new system is the difficult part:

      “America’s existing air-traffic control system is financed by a trust fund, mostly from passenger taxes. The authorisation for this fund expires in September this year. Such funding was fine when fares were regulated by governments and related to the distance travelled, but now fares are deregulated and the taxes paid on them bear little relation to the length of the flight or the cost of handling it.

      “Moreover, there has been a big increase in the use of private and executive aircraft, so airlines, which contribute more than 90% of the trust’s income, now consume only two-thirds of its services, complains the Air Transport Association. It wants fees to be based on use, pointing out that the new technology makes it easy to work out the cost of handling each flight.”

    4. #4 Markk
      August 9, 2007

      Hi, Sorry I’m late back. Yes the EAA is what I meant. Here is a link to one of their (my) propaganda pieces:

      http://www.eaa.org/govt/index.html

      I think they have a lot more. Web search for something like “EAA User Fees” for example.