If it becomes law, the Federal Aviation Agency’s reauthorization proposal will negatively impact Mississippi airports like the John Bell Williams Airport (JBW) in Raymond and related small businesses.
Concerns about the proposal led Hinds Community College president Clyde Muse and aviation business owners to meet with news media at the college’s Eagle Ridge Conference Center in late March. “It would run a lot of people out of business,” said Muse of the proposal.
He said, “We are here to ask our members of Congress to stand up for the small businesses and local communities around Mississippi by blocking this unfair proposal, and specifically any ‘user fees,’ which are really a huge tax hike on small businesses and would benefit no one except for the big airlines. This would not just jeopardize the status of our flight school, but we would be forced to transfer these taxes to students directly.”
Muse was contacted by JBW airport manager Michelle Jackson about the pending proposal, which was introduced in early February. “It took several days for various aviation organizations to digest everything. General aviation as a whole has been fighting this ever since,” she said.
Hinds Community College owns and operates the JBW, said Jackson.
Close to $10 million in improvements are planned for the airport. But, said Muse, that could be jeopardized by the FAA proposal.
Another concern is the proposal could affect an industrial park planned on airport acreage. “The county is trying to assist the airport in any way it can to develop the park,” said Hinds County District Four Supervisor Ronnie Chappell of Raymond.
Chappell, who also serves on the airport commission, said, “We have tremendous potential at John Bell Williams Airport, and I want to make that potential a reality.”
Major concerns include increasing the fuel tax from 19.4¢ per gallon to 70¢ per gallon on aviation fuel and from 21.9¢ per gallon to 70¢ on jet fuel. An example is a Mississippi-based construction company, which owns a Cessna Citation that flies 10,289 miles per month. The increased cost due to the higher fuel tax would be $3,234 a month or nearly $40,000 a year.
The FAA also proposes a user fee system. This would include fees for all aircraft that use enroute and terminal radar services as well as new landing fees at 215 airports (including Jackson and Gulfport).
It adds 12 new administrative user fees for aircraft registration, pilot certification and other areas.
Muse said not only would the proposal hurt small businesses statewide, but it would impact flight schools such as the one at Hinds. He noted it would reduce access to specialized medical care, traffic enforcement, farming and ranching and business growth.
“While the big commercial airlines would net another tax break, small businesses like mine across Mississippi would be decimated by this proposal. This wouldn’t just affect the livelihood of my businesses, it would affect the small towns and communities that our customers’ planes service across Mississippi,” said Carl Davis, co-founder and president of Davis Aviation headquartered near the airport in Jackson.
Billy Miller, owner of Marc Inc. at the JBW airport, said his business flies airplanes all over the country to do aerial photography. “The company is here. Our airplanes are scattered all over. We’re going to be hit hard locally (if the proposal passes),” he added.
Miller has been located at JBW since 1992. “When we moved out here, we were it basically. Now, there are six to eight businesses out here,” said Miller.
Brewer Pearson, owner of Select Aviation Services, has an office at the airport. He flies corporate planes out of Madison offering pilot service and aircraft brokerage.
“We do a whole lot of corporate flying between Jackson and Gulfport,” said Brewer, whose clients include an ad agency and real estate developer.
Brewer said if he is selling an airplane for someone and fuel prices have increased because of an unjustified tax, then the airplane won’t be as attractive to a prospective customer.
The FAA proposal also cuts many rural access programs and leaves completely unfunded the Small Communities Air Service Program, which encourages service to small communities by the big airlines.
According to figures provided by Hinds Community College, Mississippi is home to a system of many small airports that generate approximately $637 million in economic activity and offer jobs for more than 10,000 employees throughout the state.
The National Business Aviation Association Inc. (NBAA) is helping small business owners such as Davis, Miller and Pearson bring their fight to Washington. The association represents more than 8,000 member companies.
NBAA president Ed Bolen recently testified before the House Aviation Subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He argued that the FAA plan fulfills a long-standing lobbying campaign by the major airlines to shift airline costs onto general aviation in the form of new taxes and user fees.
He said the proposal contains provisions that would overthrow a funding structure that has proven to be “stable, reliable and growing for more than 25 years in exchange for a radical user fee regime that would jeopardize the largest, safest and most efficient air transportation system in the world.”