User fees, FAA funding in a 'holding pattern'

April 11, 2008

User fees, FAA funding in a ‘holding pattern’

By AOPA ePublishing staff

‘Your champion, your advocate for GA’

AOPA President Phil Boyer was surprised Thursday evening with a special award.

Presented by FAA Southern Region Administrator Doug Murphy and Sun ’n Fun Chairman John Burton, the award featured an aerial photo of a crowded Lakeland Linder Regional Airport with the inscription, “All of the above extend sincere thanks to Phil Boyer for your efforts on behalf of aviation in general, and Sun ’n Fun in particular.”

Murphy, after first joking about AOPA’s opposition to the FAA’s preferred funding bill, called Boyer “your champion, your advocate for general aviation.” Burton said Boyer was “a passionate advocate for general aviation, aggressively debating issues that threaten it, and promoting ideas and technology that advance [GA].”

User fees and FAA funding are in a holding pattern, “centered on the ‘Senate’ waypoint,” AOPA President Phil Boyer said at a Pilot Town Meeting at Sun ’n Fun on April 10. “The House has acted, the Senate hasn’t.”

The House FAA funding bill has no user fees and an inflationary avgas tax increase. But the Senate is still wrangling over two possible funding bills, one of which includes a $25-per-flight user fee. And Boyer said that general aviation still faces powerful enemies in the fight to get a fair funding bill.

“I’ve been through this fight three times,” Boyer said, “and the airlines have traditionally been our enemy. Because plain and simple, it isn’t about user fees, it isn’t about modernizing the air traffic system, it’s about a giant tax cut for the airlines.”

But this time around, the White House also went against the interests of general aviation. “They came up with a bill that would cut airport funding and charge user fees,” Boyer said. And there is one very powerful senator who remains committed to imposing user fees on GA.

“But what I want to tell you is the strength of AOPA and its members,” said Boyer. Noting that AOPA membership had reached a record level of 415,000, some 70 percent of the total number of pilots in the United States, he said that “there is not a congressional district where we don’t have members. There isn’t a state where we don’t have enough members to make a difference in a senate race.” And those AOPA members have made, and will continue to make, a difference. “There is no question that we are very powerful voice,” Boyer said.

That voice will come into play again soon as Congress approaches another deadline for FAA funding. The current aviation taxes, which Congress temporarily extended, will expire June 30. So the Senate must either pass a bill before then, or extend the status quo once again.

“Our voice is most effective when targeted at specific senators who have direct influence on the legislation,” said Boyer. “So, once again, when the time is right, we will be asking AOPA members in specific states to contact Congress. The power of our membership number will have a significant impact.”

Boyer also addressed other issues of importance to pilots, including rising fuel costs. He conceded that AOPA could do little to directly influence the oil market. “If the American Automobile Association can’t change gasoline prices, AOPA isn’t going to have any greater success. But what we can do is help you find the cheapest avgas around.”

He told the audience that AOPA’s Airport Directory Online includes listings of the lowest fuel prices at each airport. Using the directory’s “radius search” function, pilots can now find the lowest fuel prices in a region. “Simply search around your intended fuel stop, and you can find the best price,” said Boyer. “A slight course deviation might save you a lot of money.”

This is the fifth year that AOPA has hosted a Pilot Town Meeting at Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla. More than 300 pilots attended the meeting this year.

April 11, 2008