White House: 'Why we need aviation user fees'

January 13, 2012

After almost 9,000 people urged the president to take damaging aviation user fees off the table, the administration on Jan. 13 offered its response: No way.

In a response to a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website, Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for General Government Programs Dana Hyde reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to a proposed $100-per-flight fee for use of air traffic services, claiming that the fee would both “ensure that everyone is paying their fair share” and help reduce the deficit.

“We are disappointed but not surprised that the administration continues to seek a $100 user fee on general aviation flights,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “Congress has repeatedly said that a GA user fee is an unacceptable method of funding the air traffic system. 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.”

AOPA member Kevin Mossey of Marion, Iowa, started the petition Sept. 23 in response to a White House deficit-reduction proposal that would impose a $100-per-flight fee for flights in controlled airspace. The petition pointed out that the existing system of revenue generation, collected through excise taxes, allows more of the revenue collected to go toward the operation of the air traffic control system. It also explained that fuel taxes more accurately reflect the amount of ATC services, “as a flight from NYC to LA will require more controller time than a flight from NYC to Boston.” The petition gained 8,904 signatures—well more than the threshold at the time for earning a response from the White House.

In the response, Hyde said the administration wanted to make sure that those who benefit from the airspace system share the costs equitably.

“For example, under current law, a large commercial aircraft flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco pays between twenty-one and thirty-three times the fuel taxes paid by a corporate jet flying the same route and using the same FAA air traffic services,” according to the response.

Really? Paying the 21.9-cents-per-gallon tax on noncommercial jet fuel, operators of a Gulfstream IV business jet would pay about $87 in fuel taxes. The commercial jet fuel tax is 4.4 cents per gallon; even with a much higher fuel burn, operators of an Airbus A320 would pay about $68 in fuel taxes. AOPA maintains that GA is willing to pay its fair share into the system—but payment shouldn’t be based on faulty calculations.

A loose grasp on the workings of the aviation system also revealed itself in the ambiguous language of the proposal: It would exempt flights outside of “controlled airspace,” but doesn’t define the term. (Is Class E “controlled”?) The original proposal also would exempt “recreational piston aircraft,” a nebulous distinction. The response to the petition refers instead to exempting “all piston aircraft,” among other categories—but no segment of aviation can count itself immune once the bureaucratic structure for user fees is introduced. User fees bypass congressional budgeting processes and can be raised or expanded at will. AOPA holds that GA should pay its share using the time-tested funding system that has supported the National Airspace System for years.