TEXT OF STORY
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Rising fuel prices create problems for everyone, but they are especially troubling in Alaska which has more pilots per capita than any other state. Air taxis take groceries, mail and dentists to rural villages and tourists to remote fishing holes. They also fly heart attack victims to out-of-state cardiologists. Now users and owners of these small aircraft are worried about an FAA funding measure moving through Congress. It would cause fuel taxes for small aircraft to more than triple. Reporter Weld Royal spoke with some Alaskan pilots who fear that if this measure becomes law, they won't survive.
Weld Royal: In Juneau, companies providing cab service in the sky outnumber those using the road.
This canary-yellow taxi is a float plane from the 1950s. It's taking mail, freight and a couple of pizzas to the tiny town of Pelican.
Delivery person: It takes 24-hour delivery, but we can get it there. People buy the pizzas they just deliver them. We'll freeze it for them, but they'll bring it by and we can get it out there whenever we have a chance.
In Alaska, planes handle a lot more than just fast food. They're a key link to medical care. People use them to commute to college classes, and to work.
Dave Palmer manages Juneau International Airport and owns a Cesna. He says the FAA proposal would reduce regulatory costs for major airlines and increase them for small plane operators. Palmer says that's unfair because pilots like him require few FAA services.
Dave Palmer: I fly around here at about 1,000 feet above sea level. I file a flight plan and check the weather and that's the contact I have with the FAA. I don't file instrument flight rules, I don't have flight following, therea€™s no air traffic control radar...
The FAA says it needs the money to pay for a new satellite-based air traffic control system it calls Next Gen.
Dan Elwell is with the FAA. He says Next Gen will become crucial as air traffic increases and everybody needs to pay their fair share.
Dan Elwell: 2006 was most delay-filled year on record — '07 will be more delay-ridden than '06. And it will go that way up until, without Next Gen, up until about 2015, at which point there will be areas of the country that will be in virtual gridlock.
Still, many Alaska pilots say costs are already really high and the new fees would threaten their way of life and business.
In Juneau, I'm Weld Royal for Marketplace.