GA defeat in Canada

July 19, 2006

GA defeat in Canada
Lesson for the United States

Airplane on runway

The slide down the slippery slope of user fees. Nav Canada, the privatized air traffic control agency to the north, reports that the Canadian Transport Agency has approved a daily user fee charge for GA aircraft at seven major airports.

Why's that important to U.S. general aviation pilots?

"Because it demonstrates-again-that once user fees are applied to one segment of aviation, it's only a matter of time before user fees hit everybody," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

And it's important because many of the aviation user fee proposals being advanced in the United States would-in the beginning-treat "personal and recreational" aviation differently-just like they did in Canada-in the beginning.

The camel's nose

"User fees for any segment of aviation are the camel's nose under the tent flap," Boyer said.

In Nav Canada's beginnings, light general aviation paid an annual, fixed fee for access to the nation's airspace and air traffic control system. Other users paid per flight fees based upon distance traveled, aircraft weight, and other factors. That different treatment of different classes of users wasn't supposed to change.

But earlier this year, the private company announced "revenue neutral" changes to its fee schedule, which increased the charges to smaller aircraft, and specifically added new user fees of $10 per day ($1,200 maximum per year per airport) for aircraft weighing three metric tonnes (6,614 pounds) or less landing at selected airports.

The Canadian Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) unsuccessfully appealed the charge to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). COPA President Kevin Psutka said at the time, "The age of pay-as-you-go is upon us, indeed a very slippery slope that has played out elsewhere in the world. COPA considers this a devastating precedent that will most likely be expanded over time to capture more airports and/or services."

No compromise

"There can be no compromise on this issue in the United States," said Boyer. "We won't be fooled by U.S. user fee proponents who think they can 'buy off' light GA by exempting us from per flight user fees.

"User fees for some mean user fees for all," Boyer said. "User fees for anyone would harm all of general aviation."

Status of U.S. user fee proposals

The FAA's funding proposal-which reportedly includes mechanisms for "tying the revenue stream to the cost of doing business"-is still under review in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey recently told aviation leaders, including AOPA President Phil Boyer, that the FAA's proposal would not be presented to Congress this year.

But that doesn't mean it is dead.

The current FAA funding system of taxes on aviation fuel, airline tickets, and air cargo (plus a contribution from the general fund) will expire next year. That means the real political fight will come in the next session of Congress as everyone with a dog in the FAA funding fight will be marshaling forces on Capitol Hill.

Congress could decide to continue the current funding system. That would seem to make sense. The system is fair, it's efficient, and for more than 30 years, it has provided the money the FAA truly needs. And even the White House predicts that it will continue to raise enough money for the agency.

But that's not what the FAA or the airlines want. Both want some kind of system where individual aircraft are billed for "their fair share" of the costs of operating the air traffic control system. The FAA will have the White House behind whatever proposal it presents. The airlines will have millions of dollars of political contributions to hand out.

AOPA will have the power of numbers-pilots and voters who use and depend upon the system.

"This is a marathon," said Boyer. "We're only in the first mile of the race against user fees."

July 19, 2006