The airlines know they have a captive audience and have long used it to sell stuff or let others offer to sell the neat stuff you see in those ‘order this gadget now’ catalogues. Now, though, the carriers are using this power to press their political case about FAA funding and the future of air-traffic control, provoking some interesting guerrilla warfare responses from their opponents, the general aviation and private pilot crowd.
American Airlines is using its free seat-back magazine to make the argument for changing the whole approach to charging airline passengers and private aviation taxes. Top executives of Continental, US Airways, and Northwest, have made pleas in their monthly passenger publications, while United simply let the airlines’ chief lobbyist, Air Transport Association chief executive Jim May, have the space. Now American, the world’s largest airline and the only US carrier with an in-flight book that comes out twice a month, is in the fray.
The latest issue of American Way, the carrier’s 350,000-circulation magazine, has the airline’s chief executive Gerard Arpey, making the pitch. Arpey’s editorial, a regular fixture in the magazine, usually talks about things such as how airlines are trying to help the environment and other industry issues, but this piece is a little more pointed. Because of the way the system now operates, Arpey argues, private aviation does not pay its way while commercial airlines pay more than their far share. “What that means as crazy as it sounds, is that the airlines and our customers (that’s you!) are paying a subsidy – to the tune of $1.5 billion a year – to the companies and individuals who can afford their own aircraft”. Arpey goes on to urge passengers to write to their legislators in Washington. UAL’s chief executive, Glenn Tilton, made a similar plea in an email blast sent to United’s frequent flyers.
Now general aviation is fighting back, with the National Business Aviation Association, the Washington trade group for the ‘heavy metal’ operators of the Fortune 500 list of big corporations as well as smaller businesses that fly their own planes, screaming bloody murder. The trade group’s president and chief executive, Ed Bolen, denounce these “efforts to deceive frequent flyers into supporting the airlines’ plan to shift billions of costs onto general aviation and introduce new user fees for system funding.” The main group for private pilots, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, is urging its 412,000 members to print out a counterpoint editorial and insert that in seat backs, preferably right next to the in-flight book’s editorial, Some others in the general aviation community, a group that is noted for its pointed rough-and-rugged approach, have pointed out that the in-flight magazines are in the seatbacks “right next to the in-flight nausea bags, which is where they belong”.