Airport User Fees….They’re Baaaaaack!

The Obama budget appears to be resurrecting the ghost of President Bush’s aviation user fees.  This spectre which appeared dead in ’08 lives again in a footnote buried in the new 2010 budget calling for about $7 billion of taxes to be replaced by “direct user charges”.

This proposal may put at odds the business aviation and airline groups who have been working together to bring about a modernization of air traffic control and airport development.

This sort of user pays system has been proposed many times over the years without success.  But, in the current political climate user fees may be easier to increase than taxes.

On February 26, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) issued the following statement. “Although we commend the Obama Administration for its commitment to modernizing the nation’s aviation system and expanding capacity, we are very troubled by the budget outline issued by the White House today, because it appears to leave the door open to consideration of user fees for funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  We continue to believe that operational user fees have no place in a funding plan for the FAA, and we will remain unified with the rest of the general aviation community in opposing them in favor of building on the proven, efficient fuel tax for general aviation to help support modernization.  We remain committed to modernization, as demonstrated by the industry’s commitment last year, and we look forward to working with the Administration and Congress on effective proposals to expedite modernization.

Will President Obama prove to be a friend to general avaition?  Only time will tell.  As AOPA President Craig Fuller said, “It is often said the devil is in the details, but even with only a few details, there is much about which we are concerned.”

Save Money on Hangars – Buy an Airplane Cover

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In these challenging times many airplane owners are looking for ways to cut their operating costs while protecting their aircraft investment.  One option is to eliminate that big fixed cost – hangar rent.  While it’s true that hangared aircraft typically resell for more than their tie down cousins, it is possible to protect your airplane without spending the big bucks on a hangar.  Covers typically cost the equivalent of one month’s hangar rent.

Airplane covers are usually cloth covers fitted to your individual aircraft and designed to protect it from sunlight and weather damage.  The cover should be lined with microfiber wherever it comes into contact with glass to prevent scratching, and should be constructed of a “breathable” material so moisture and condensation won’t be trapped under the cover.  In addition, your cover should be a good close fit to your aircraft to prevent friction against the glass and finish when the wind kicks up.

Although the cover should be water repellent enough to prevent rain from leaking into your plane, you really don’t want something “waterproof” like a plastic tarp.  These can flap in the wind and damage your paint and glass and will trap moisture next to the finish possibly leading to mildew and corrosion.

Covers are constructed of many materials.  Two popular choices are acrylic-woven Sunbrella and a nylon based material called Silver Laminate.  The Silver Laminate, as you might expect, comes in a light silver color and is effective in both water repellancy and UV protection.  The Sunbrella is a little thicker, stiffer and heavier and comes in darker and brighter colors.  Some people find the darker colored fabric to be more protective, while others swear by the highly reflective Silver Laminate as keeping the aircraft cooler in the summer heat.

The cost of covers vary by type and size of aircraft,  manufacturer and fabric choice.   Prices start under $100 and go up from there.  Depending on your climate and the material, a cover should last from 3 to 5 years.  Most are hand washable with mild soap and water.

While it is possible to cover the entire aircraft, many manufacturers recommend covering only the most critical portions of the plane, starting with the cockpit, then the wing tops, the horizontal tail and the propeller blades. 

In my area, hangars are hard to come by.  Most local airports have waiting lists in excess of a year.  Besides the wait, they’re very expensive.  A T-hangar near my home (actually a two-hour drive from my home) is $250 per month and requires a very expensive liability policy which brings the total to nearly $500 per month.  Another small local airport has tie-downs readily available for less than $100 per month. 

Covering your airplane will save you thousands each year in hangar rent,  and even if you do have to paint more often than your hangared neighbor, you’ll probably come out ahead in the end.