Congress punts FAA funding issue into 2009

September 24, 2008

Call it the Washington, D.C., version of kick the can. With the latest extension of the FAA funding bill set to expire at the end of September, with the Congress wrangling over a $700 billion bail-out bill for U.S. financial institutions, and with legislators wanting to get out of town to campaign, Congress decided the FAA funding issue could wait until next year.

“That means we can declare victory in the battle against user fees, at least in 2008,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

On Sept. 23, the House of Representatives passed a bill that extends the current aviation taxes on fuel and airline tickets until March 31, 2009. It gave the FAA the authority to spend nearly $7.9 billion over the next six months. That’s roughly what congressional appropriators said the FAA should get for that time period had a real funding bill already been in place. The Senate quickly confirmed the House action the same day.

If President Bush signs the bill, taxes would continue at the same level as now. The FAA would continue to spend money at about the same level. Airports could continue to move forward with projects under the Airport Improvement Program. And no user fees! At least until March 31.

“But it also means we start the battle anew in 2009,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “A new Congress means new FAA funding bills will have to be introduced. And the user fee proponents haven’t gone away. With rising deficits, the federal government has even more pressures on its spending and the need for new revenue sources.”

In fact, neither presidential candidate has ruled out aviation user fees. (You’ll be able to read more on Sens. McCain and Obama’s positions on aviation in the November issue of AOPA Pilot, which will be at your house by mid-October.)

“It’s still a winnable fight,” said Cebula, “but we need our friends in the House who have fought so valiantly against user fees to return to power. But they will need help. So when you enter the voting booth on Nov. 4, we hope you will give serious consideration to those candidates who understand and support legislation favorable to general aviation.”

Many of those candidates also will be profiled in the November AOPA Pilot.