The FAA has argued that user fees would create a stable source of funding, allowing it to avoid the congressional budget authorization process now in place.
But the truth is that the FAA already has a stable source of funding in the form of tax monies from the aviation trust fund and general fund—a stable system that has served well for nearly four decades. The experience of other countries has shown that user fees do not create stability.
Take Canada and Germany as examples: In both countries, air traffic control (ATC) providers have had to compensate for economic problems by adjusting their fee structures—without the benefit of legislative oversight and often at the expense of general aviation.
Canada implemented a fee structure in 1998. In the eight years since, fees have been adjusted repeatedly-first downward, then upward. Even more troublesome, NAVCANADA, the ATC service provider, implemented new terminal area user fees for light aircraft in 2006. The Canadian ATC system is privatized, and the government now has minimal authority to ensure charges are assessed in a balanced way.
The German ATC provider, DFS, raised its rates twice within 60 days in 2002 as a result of the instability generated by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
By contrast, the airlines' instability during that same time period did not have an immediate and direct affect on the FAA budget in 2002. Instead, policymakers elected to use more of the aviation trust fund's excess, while reducing the general fund contribution in support of the war efforts in Afghanistan.