User fees in White House FY2013 budget

February 13, 2012

The White House budget released Feb. 13 would impose a $100-per-flight fee for turbine aircraft that use air traffic services.

The $100 fee came as no surprise to aviation groups, which watched it appear in deficit-reduction negotiations in late 2011 and again in a recent statement from the White House—although AOPA and other groups had hoped that the Obama administration would omit the fee from the fiscal year 2013 budget in response to opposition on many fronts. Between the proposal, aimed at turbine aircraft, and a plan to eliminate depreciation rules that serve as an incentive to purchase business aircraft, business aviation fared poorly in the budget.

"Regrettably, the Obama administration has chosen to impose fees on the use of private aircraft, which the majority of Congress on a bipartisan basis has consistently rejected," said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “Pay at the pump has worked since the dawn of powered flight and it still works. The last thing we need right now is to create an expensive new bureaucracy to fix what isn't broken.”

The first budget proposal of Obama’s presidency sought to impose billions of dollars in “direct user charges” for use of the aviation system, but budgets in the two succeeding years were silent on the subject of user fees. The proposal persisted in other forms, however, and came back in force during deficit-reduction negotiations in late 2011: The White House budget office’s plan for reducing the deficit would have covered some of the gap with a $100-per-flight fee for flights in controlled airspace, with exemptions for piston and other types of operations.

"While claiming to desire economic growth and more jobs, the Obama administration singles out one of the most respected industries and their highly skilled workers for punitive fees," said Fuller. "For inexplicable reasons, the administration singles out the business use of private aircraft as the one asset for which operating fees should be required. This is an odd approach for policy makers who elect to fly in Boeing 747s on business and personal travel."

The fee met with opposition from aviation groups, members of Congress, and pilots, but the Office of Management and Budget stood by its plan. In a response to a petition, signed by close to 9,000 people, that urged the president to take user fees off the table, the office presaged the budget release by reaffirming the White House’s commitment to pursuing the fee.

The recently released budget echoes language that appeared in the deficit-reduction proposal in 2011. “To reduce the deficit and more equitably share the cost of air traffic services across the aviation user community, the Administration proposes to create a $100 per flight fee, payable to the Federal Aviation Administration, by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace,” it reads. “All piston aircraft, military aircraft, public aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights would be exempted. This fee would generate an estimated $7.4 billion over 10 years. Assuming the enactment of the fee, total charges collected from aviation users would finance roughly three-fourths of airport investments and air traffic control system costs.”

“AOPA has long opposed the imposition of a new collection bureaucracy for user fees, and finds little solace in the proposed exemption of piston aircraft. In nations where user fees have been introduced, the fees have grown,” said Fuller. “Once the collection system is imposed, new fees and fee increases bypass the congressional approval process that currently keeps excise taxes in check. And safety is compromised when a fee system discourages pilots from availing themselves of air traffic services.”

AOPA is still analyzing the rest of the budget for other details affecting GA.