It looks like GA pilots and flight instructors are going to be very busy in the coming months because of two changes being proposed. The first change(s) is(are) included the latest federal budget proposal that adds a hike in fuel taxes and introduces user fees for GA aircraft opperating in congested airspace. The second proposal is a revamping of siginficant part of title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, including proposed new rulemaking for parts 1, 21, 43, 45, 61, 65, 91, 135, and 141. Call me a cynic, but the timing of these two activities seems to have been to create maximum confusion, especially in the GA community.
Regardless of whether you are in favor of or against user fees and tax increases, the one thing that is certain is that this will increase the cost of learning to fly, maintaining currency, or persuing a new certificate or rating. It may be possible to avoid the user fees (if they are implemented) by avoiding congested airspace (the proposal appears to target the use of Class B airspace), but I fear fuel tax increases alone could drive away GA pilots seeking training. These proposals also promise reduced revenues for FBOs operating in metropolitan areas and should succeed in making it even harder for flight instructors trying to earn a living.
Let's face it, no one is making a fortune in aviation, but the main reason that professional flight instruction provides such a low income is the overall high cost of flying. High cost understandably creates pressure to lower costs. Given the high cost of aircraft acquisition (and the attendent aging fleet of training aircraft), the expense of regular aircraft maintenance, and the cost of fuel, most FBOs that provide flight instruction already run on razor thin magins. The only way to control costs is to delay the purchase of new aircraft, scrimp on maintenance on existing aircraft, and restrict the amount paid to flight instructors. The last two tactics are the most frequently employed in my experience.
The costs of being in business as a professional flight instructor are many, including liability insurance, continuing education, chart subscriptions, new aircraft checkouts, flight review, and instructor certificate renewal. Only once have I had a person complain about the fee I charge for instruction. Just in case anyone out there needs a reminder, the cost of instruction is less than half the cost of any instructional flight.
If you are so inclined, I recommend reading AOPA's position on the proposed user fees and tax hikes here. I hope that the user fee proposal is DOA, but ensuring that it dies will take involvement by all GA pilots. The FAA runs out of money in September of this year, so stay tuned for more details in the coming months as the battle is joined.
Now on to the revamping of some of regulations that govern aviation. I have yet to review all of the proposed rule making in detail, but some of what is being suggested is good. One change is expanding the allowed use of PCATDs and simulators for private, commercial, and instrument rating training as well as instrument currency. One of my favorite changes to part 61 is extending the duration of student pilot certificates for pilots under 40 years of age to three years so that it matches the duration of their medical certificate. Another favorite is allowing the day and night cross country flights required for the commercial certificate to be conducted under VFR or IFR. Sometimes even the FAA gets it right.
Some of the proposed changes involve semantics that trouble the lawyers among us. One is the addition language that pilots must carry a "current and valid" pilot certificate when exercising their privileges of pilot-in-command. This has led some to interpret this wording to mean that we must carry our logbooks with us, since it shows our currency. I don't think this is what was intended, but the lawyers will have to slug it out on this one.
If you are interested in reading the proposed rule making, you can find it here.