FAA Funding Debate
What works, what doesn’t
The United States has the largest, safest, most efficient air transportation system in the world—a system developed and funded by simple, efficient taxes on aviation fuel, passenger tickets, and air cargo.
About two-thirds of the funding for the FAA’s Aviation Trust Fund comes from fuel taxes. Currently, avgas users pay 19.3 cents/gallon in fuel tax, while noncommercial Jet A users pay 21.8 cents/gallon. GA users have agreed to an increase in the fuel taxes, ensuring that GA pays its “fair share” of costs. These taxes are easy to collect and provide an equitable distribution of costs—if you fly farther, you use more fuel.
Other parts of the world have user fee systems that are far more complex and require a large bureaucracy to manage. Want to know how much a flight in your aircraft would cost in Australia? Grab a calculator. (If you fly a large business jet, make sure it has a “square root” function.) You’ll need to know your deemed max takeoff weight, how far you’ll fly, how many full-stop landings and instrument approaches you’ll make, the rate per ton assessed at your planned destination—and if you’ll be arriving during normal business hours. Plus, take a guess at whether you’ll fly more or less than last year, because the government could give you an option to estimate your charges. If it’s less than $500, you might be off the hook. If not, pay up.
Of course, this elaborate pay scheme requires people to measure your flights, count your landings, check your math, and collect your money. So a lot of the money you pay into the system won’t even go toward providing ATC services or keeping the airspace system safe.
The burden of similar fees in the United States would destroy flight schools, decimate the pilot population, put manufacturers and FBOs out of business, and kill off some of the 1.2 million jobs that now depend on GA.
Pilots can help defend GA from damaging user fees by supporting the AOPA Political Action Committee, and by contacting their senators and representatives to let them know where pilots stand on the issue.