Looking at the aviation news headlines, there’s talk about user fees, again. The issue is like a bad penny. We just can’t seem to rid ourselves of it, even though it seems that the issue is soundly defeated each time it comes up. From what I’m reading now, the White House is proposing a $100 per flight fee and this fee will be paid to the FAA. As I understand it, the fee is meant to cover the cost of using air traffic services, so flights conducted outside controlled airspace theoretically will not have to pay a fee. And, I think there is a provision that is supposed to exempt our types of general aviation flying from having to pay the fee. But, the terms are not clearly defined. And, user fees keep resurfacing. So, we legitimately worry that they may become real and that they could eventually and ultimately affect our flying, and not in a good way.
Apart from the unwelcome additional cost to us to fly, and the consequent probable impact on aviation safety, I see another branch to this willow tree. That is, if there is a requirement to do something, then there has to be a regulation prescribing so, and if there is a failure to do what is required by regulation, then there has to be a mechanism for enforcement and a penalty. In this context then, would the FAA come up with another regulation? As if we didn’t have enough regulations to follow. Would the FAA track our compliance, or non-compliance? As if the FAA doesn’t have enough to do that they can now track a flight, send a bill, and put together evidence when the bill is not paid. Would the FAA then take enforcement action if we failed to pay a user fee for a flight that the FAA feels qualifies for the fee? That’s a good use of the money you just collected: paying for more FAA enforcement actions to prosecute more regulatory violations. And, for us, more reason to be suspicious of FAA inquiries and more reason to be sure we know how to protect ourselves. Yep, user fees are a good idea... I’m not convinced yet.
In any event, government regulation and, by default, government enforcement is inevitable. Laws are meant to instill order. And, we want order when we’re flying around out there. What is difficult is determining how many laws and whose laws are too much and/or not enough, and this is what our membership associations try to work out for us. Still, no matter where you fall on the line of whether the FAA regulates us too much or too little, we remain obligated to know the rules that apply to us at the time and to follow those rules. Safety is at stake, and none of us are willing to compromise safety. Staying informed and educated on the regulations and the changes that come about is one way to avoid a violation charge. And, knowing how to respond to FAA inquiries without making the matter worse is also a way to protect against an FAA allegation. Today, we can get this kind of information by staying proficient, staying active in membership associations, and attending seminars. Having and respecting personal minimums helps. There are other ways, too. We must do our best to be in a position to know what we need to do or where to go to find out.
Safe flying, All!