User fee prospects fade in Congress

March 2, 2012

A groundswell of opposition awaits the Obama administration’s proposal for a $100 aviation user fee if it ever reaches the House floor—but it won’t, said House aviation subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-Wis.).

Petri on March 1 fired off a letter bearing 195 congressional signatures to President Barack Obama, reminding him that user fees have been proposed by presidents of both parties but were overwhelmingly defeated each time. A user-fee proposal appears in the White House’s 2013 budget package.

AOPA President Craig Fuller, who often urges the aviation community to remain vigilant for re-emergence of user fees, welcomed the strong and early message from Capitol Hill. He called on the administration to drop the plan in the face of formidable opposition.  

“It is clear that congressional opposition to aviation user fees has grown significantly,” Fuller said. “We said at the time it was a proposal likely to be dead on arrival. Let's hope the $100 per flight user fee is buried quickly by the Obama administration.”

Sponsors of the bipartisan House letter included Aviation Subcommittee ranking member Jerry F. Costello (D-Ill.) and the co-chairs of the House General Aviation Caucus, Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo,) and John Barrow (D-Ga.). Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.) also signed.

The extent of opposition quickly emerged following announcement of the user-fee plan. AOPA reported Feb. 22 that the four sponsors of the letter had begun to urge colleagues to signal their disapproval of the proposed user fee on turbine aircraft that use air traffic services. A similar fee plan failed in 2011 during deficit-reduction negotiations.

AOPA opposes user fees because they would dismantle the successful pay-at-the-pump method of funding the air traffic system through fuel taxes. User fees would also require creation of a tax-collection bureaucracy—and once established, the fees tend to increase.

Petri, in a statement announcing his letter, emphasized that opposition to user fees is firm and growing.

“Almost half of the House members signed, and we would have no trouble getting a majority if this proposal were ever to be advanced to the full House—which it won't,” he said.

He called on the president to instead work with Congress to support policies that encourage job growth and strengthen the economy.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.