'It's still about user fees'

May 22, 2007

'It's still about user fees'
AOPA's Boyer debates the airlines

Click to watch video
Click to watch video.
Phil Boyer and James May
Phil Boyer and James May
(photography by John Harrington)

It still comes down to user fees. AOPA President Phil Boyer and the airlines' representative, James May of the Air Transport Association (ATA), squared off for a debate on the FAA funding legislation. AOPA and ATA are the two biggest guns of the aviation user community, and they got to speak face to face in Washington, D.C., on May 22.

Boyer wasted no time in making an attack. He said that every time it came time to renew the FAA funding legislation, the airlines always tried for a giant tax cut for themselves and more control over the world's safest and most efficient air traffic control system.

"And this time, the airlines have manufactured every crisis they can to put the ill on general aviation," Boyer told the high-powered audience that included congressional staff members, FAA officials, and national news media at the Washington Aero Club.

But Boyer said that AOPA and the airlines were very close on many issues, including the need to modernize the ATC system.

"Our only concern is the introduction of a user fee to any segment of aviation, whether it be $5 or $25," said Boyer, referring specifically to the Senate's FAA funding bill.

"Even if it were just the airlines [paying user fees], to put that structure in place would be a slippery slope. As we've seen around the world, fees would eventually trickle down to general aviation, with devastating economic results."

May was willing to drop user fees for GA. "I've never advocated a collection formula," he said, "the collection method should be wide open to the user." But he continued to insist that corporate aviation was not paying enough.

"I don't have any grief with Phil at all," said May. Piston GA is exempt from user fees in the Senate bill "and I support that. My beef quite frankly is with the corporate jets. I'm just trying to find a little balance from some folks who can easily afford to pay their fair share."

Boyer used an e-mail from an AOPA member to answer the "fair share" question. "The air traffic control system was built for the flying public. The users aren't the airlines or GA, but the people who fly inside those silver tubes."

When you went to the drive-in to watch a movie - Boyer said, using the member's analogy - each person in the car had to buy a ticket. The cost for supplying the parking spot wasn't any different if there were two or six people in the car, but each person got the benefit of seeing the movie.

And then Boyer pointed out that if paying one's "fair share" were the only criteria for funding a transportation system, only 15 states would have interstate and federal highways. The federal roads in all the other states were "subsidized" by drivers in 15 states.

"We have the best air transportation system in the world," said Boyer. "Let's consider very carefully before we muck up a funding system that has served us so well."

May 22, 2007