In the latest user-fee threat, outlined in The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction, “the Administration proposes to establish a new mandatory surcharge for air traffic services. This proposal would create a $100 per flight fee, payable to the FAA, by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace.”
The proposal, as written, would exempt recreational piston aircraft and certain other aircraft, but there is no established process to determine the operational mission of a Part 91 GA flight. An entirely new bureaucracy would have to be created to register and monitor piston operators.
And once the bureaucracy is in place to administer a user fee, it could take on a life of its own. Federal regulators could raise the fee on their own, bypassing the congressional budgeting process. So even if a “small” user fee is imposed, there’s no limit to how high that fee could go in the future. The German ATC provider, DFS, raised its rates twice within 60 days in 2002 as a result of the instability generated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
The Obama administration estimates that the $100-per-flight fee would generate $11 billion over 10 years, but AOPA’s estimates put the cost to operators much higher—if pilots continue to fly. Shelling out an additional $100 for each flight could cut down GA activity significantly, crippling an industry that contributes $150 billion to the U.S. economy each year.1 2 3