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March 4, 2014
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
Editor's Note: Updated to include further details on the fees and AOPA’s opposition to the proposal.
User fees for aviation were once again part of the president’s new budget proposal, despite continued strong opposition from Congress and the aviation community.
On March 4, the White House released its fiscal year 2015 spending plan, which included a $100-per-flight “surcharge” to pay for air traffic control services.
“We are disappointed that the President doesn’t seem to have gotten the message” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “With Congress on our side, I am confident we can prevent this arbitrary proposal from becoming a reality, but we have to stay vigilant. We are working hard to make general aviation more accessible and affordable, and whether you call it a user fee or a surcharge, we will keep fighting against proposals like this that would raise the cost of flying."
A $100 per-flight fee has been a regular feature of the president’s annual budget proposals, making an appearance in each of the past four spending plans. While the fees would apply to turbine aircraft, it is extremely likely that a fee on any portion of the GA fleet would soon extend to others as well.
“The real question may be why the FAA is calling for new fees on any segment of aviation when should be finding more efficient ways to manage the money it already has,” said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Coon. “The FAA’s budget has grown by more than 500 percent since 1980—from $3.2 billion then to $15.6 billion today, despite the fact that the agency employs 9,000 fewer people. The bureaucracy is bloated and the FAA should clean up its own house before it looks to pilots to pay more.”
On Feb. 27, leaders of the House aviation subcommittee and the co-chairs of the House General Aviation Caucus sent a letter to President Obama reiterating their strong bipartisan opposition to user fees and asking the president not to include a user fee proposal in his upcoming budget. The letter noted that the House of Representatives has repeatedly rejected this user fee proposal and opposition remains strong in both parties.
The letter was signed by House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) and Ranking Member Rick Larson (D-Washington), along with AOPA members Sam Graves (R-Missouri), and John Barrow (D-Georgia). Graves and Barrow co-chair the House General Aviation Caucus which has 238 members. And while it expresses support for the economic contributions of commercial and general aviation, including manufacturing and associated industries, it also notes that those industries could be harmed by fees.
“Your continued support for any proposal to implement a per-flight-fee on commercial and general aviation would only serve to undermine the strength of our aviation transportation system and the jobs that rely on this important segment of our nation’s economy,” the letter warned.
In April 2013, 223 members of the House of Representatives signed a strongly worded letter to the president opposing user fees and telling the president the idea was “dead on arrival.”
Now the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation has scheduled a March 12 hearing on the budget proposal. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is scheduled to testify and the user fee provision is among the budget elements likely to be discussed.
AOPA and others have long argued that user fees are the wrong way to fund the national air transportation system and that the FAA needs to reduce spending in several areas before looking for any new revenues. The current system of excise taxes on fuel is efficient and ensures that everyone who flies pays to support the system.
Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.
The idea that Congress doesn’t accomplish much isn’t new.
General aviation airports rely on federal money, making it vitally important that Congress maintain Airport Improvement Program funding at least at current levels, AOPA President Mark Baker testified before the House Aviation Subcommittee.
The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday voted to provide $15.7 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration in fiscal year 2015, representing a slight increase from the current $15.6 billion funding level.
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