October 11, 2006
Speaking before a packed ballroom of AOPA members Friday, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey acknowledged the "big elephant in the room," otherwise known as user fees, during AOPA Expo's second general session.
Blakey said she did not support a new funding system that would entail "broad user fees." The comment was met with applause, but she was later pressed for clarification on the word "broad" by a member during the question and answer period.
The administrator, now four years into her five-year contract, said that everybody who uses the air traffic control system should pay their fair share, including the public through a continued general fund contribution.
"We do not want to create a funding system that stifles GA," she said.
Blakey acknowledged that general aviation pilots have been paying fuel taxes, a form of user fees, but she said when you look at the bigger funding picture, airline passenger ticket taxes are not carrying their weight. Unlike fuel taxes that are fair and efficient, she said the ticket taxes are based on a percentage of ticket prices and have nothing to do with the cost of the system or the volume of work.
The existing law establishing the taxes on aviation users will expire in October, but Blakey said that there is no current proposal on the table for a new funding scheme.
"The administration is a much broader body than just yours truly," she said. "I cannot predict what the proposal [from the White House] will ultimately say."
Until President Bush presents his budget proposal in February, AOPA will remain skeptical. As AOPA President Phil Boyer pointed out, the shift in power in Congress will provide new opportunities to fight the fees.
Boyer credited the FAA for its tough stance on protecting airports and for doing what it could to go after the city of Chicago for destroying Meigs Field.
Elsewhere in the country, the administrator vowed to enforce regulations to curb development around federally obligated airports.
"The condos will just have to go somewhere else," she said.
Under Blakey's watch, the FAA has seen quantum leaps in technology. She thanked AOPA for its support of ADS-B technology in the GA cockpit and for its advocacy regarding WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) GPS approaches.
Perhaps the biggest sea change during Blakey's tenure was the flight service contract, allowing Lockheed Martin to take over weather briefing services. She announced that the FAA has created a flight service oversight board to ensure quality service for pilots and that AOPA has been granted a seat. It should help strengthen AOPA's watchdog role.
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