On June 15, 2000, the Senate Commerce Committee forwarded the names of six other MAC nominees to the full Senate for approval but did not forward Boyer's name or that of Dallas attorney Debbie Branson. Less than 18 hours before, Committee Chairman McCain had sent Boyer a second set of follow-up questions. Excerpts of Phil Boyer's responses to some of Senator McCain's questions are provided below:
Sen. McCain: In your response to my post-hearing question regarding my position on user fees, you imply that you did not misrepresent my position on user fees. But the AOPA press release is misleading on its face. It says, "McCain pushed the user fees proposal." Nowhere does it clarify that I was not referring to the vast majority of AOPA members, who do not own corporate jets. This is obviously critical to our exchange at the hearing and left many of your members with the clear impression that I want to impose air traffic control (ATC) user fees on piston-powered, propeller-driven general aviation (GA) aircraft, which has never been the case.
The AOPA press release also said that I questioned your qualifications for the MAC because of AOPA's continued opposition to user fees. This is another misrepresentation. As the record indicates, I questioned your qualifications because you believe that corporate jets should not pay any additional fees for using more and more of the ATC system. That fact that soon after the hearing I began receiving letters from AOPA members decrying my attempt to impose ATC fees on the average GA aircraft is ample evidence that you have kept them in the dark as to key aspects of my views.
These are just two examples of how you continue to misrepresent my position on these matters. Others in the aviation community, including many who don't support user fees, agree that my position has been distorted.
So I ask once again what will you do to correct the misrepresentations of my positions in your contacts with AOPA members?
Phil Boyer: Again, I do take very seriously your concern that my press statement after the MAC confirmation hearing was somehow misleading. After once again carefully reviewing the transcript of our discussion, provided by your staff, I still do not believe any such misrepresentation took place. You first specifically asked me if "corporate aircraft" should pay user fees. As I explained in my previous set of answers, the corporate fleet contains at least 25 percent (54,000) propeller driven, piston powered aircraft. Those are my members and I do not believe they should pay user fees. Later in our discussion you asked if "corporate jets" should pay user fees. Again, as I mentioned in my previous set of answers, those who own corporate jets are only a small-subset of the AOPA membership and this group of companies, flight departments and manufacturers are the core of completely different associations in Washington, D.C. However, corporate aviation is part of the general aviation community, and I will never play a part in any strategy designed to "divide and conquer" our community.
No pilot has contacted me personally subsequent to receiving a response from your staff indicating I somehow misled them with my press statement. Perhaps this May 8 exchange between the editor of Avweb and a reader illuminates the general aviation community's feelings on this matter:
"I called Sen McCain's office to ask about the user-fee thing that AVweb reported about this week. You might want to call his office directly and clarify his stand because what I got from your report was different from what I got when I called his office...although maybe Boyer and McCain did have the energetic exchange in that meeting :-).
Scott (from McCain's office) said that the Senator has always been against user fees for GA. What they were trying to do was to capture the CEO's flying in Lear jets so that they'd pay the same kind of user fees that normal transport passengers already pay in the form of 'facility fees'. The charter jets evidently don't pay those fees now.
I agreed with his goal, but pointed out the difficulty of designing a net to capture these guys but not capture GA pilots. It sounds a lot like the dolphin-safe tuna nets that the fishermen are supposed to use now.
AVweb responds: Paul, there's no clash here. Almost everyone who supports fees-for-service claims that they're opposed to charging those fees to low-end GA aircraft...but they do want to sock it to the fat-cat corporate operators. The problem is: Where do you draw the line, and how can you be sure that the line won't be moved? Am I and my Cessna T310R considered to be an exempt flib or a sock-it-to-'em business aircraft? Is a CitationJet to be charged but a King Air F90 exempt?
This is why opponents of fees-for-service (like AOPA's Boyer) are dead set against allowing this concept to get any foot-in-the-door whatsoever.
I use the term "fees-for-service" rather than "user fees" because the current fuel taxes are certainly user fees, but unlike fees-for-service, they do not threaten safety by providing operators an incentive to pass up needed services (e.g., weather briefings from FSS or IFR services from ATC).
Those of Sen. McCain's persuasion argue (with good logic) what while an Aeronca pilot might pass up a needed weather briefing if a fee was involved, a Gulfstream V pilot clearly would not. The problem, once again, is where do you draw the line, and how do you make sure that the line doesn't move?"
McCain: In response to a post-hearing question regarding our coming to an agreement that recreational aircraft should be exempted from ATC user fees, you state that AOPA never came to an agreement with the authors of S.1239 on the subject of user fees. At the hearing you explicitly said that "we came to an agreement" on carving out sport and recreational aviation from the imposition of ATC user fees. How does that comport with your answer to the post-hearing question? Is this a mistruth or did you misstate yourself before the committee?
Boyer: I apologize if my answer was unclear. I was simply trying to note that in my letters to the Commerce Committee of November 8, 1995 and August 2, 1996, AOPA acknowledged the committee's eventual attempt to exempt some elements of general aviation from paying ATC user fees. As you see in the next question, clearly I disagreed with the committee's proposed language and indeed the underlying philosophy surrounding the need for user fees at all.
McCain: In further response to the same question, you state that neither the FAA nor DOT have a designation for "sports and recreation aircraft," and you feared that the legislation could be deemed to apply to the majority of general aviation operations. You also state that 60 percent of AOPA members use GA aircraft for business purposes at one time or another, so the exemption from ATC fees for recreational aircraft might not apply to them. But S.1239, as approved by the Commerce Committee, explicitly exempts "reciprocating piston engine aircraft not used to provide air carrier service." Unless you are telling the committee that the majority of GA aircraft operators are part time "air carriers," which is defined by the FAA and DOT, your analysis appears to be off base. If you honestly believed that the language was imprecise, but understood the clear intent of the supporters of the legislation, why didn't you try to work with the authors to craft language that would meet the mutual goal of exempting the vast majority of GA operators? Is it really your position that precise and accurate language cannot be drafted under any circumstance?
Boyer: Senator, I think we need to look at this issue in both general and specific terms. Generally, throughout 1995 and 1996 AOPA advocated a number of legislative changes to improve FAA efficiency—including creation of an advisory group which I am pleased to say became the FAA Management Advisory Council. However, we never supported the concept of user fees. Our correspondence with the Senate Commerce Committee through the summer and fall of 1995 disputed the need for user fees not only on general aviation in particular but the need for them at all. Other issues aside, with billions of dollars unspent in the aviation trust fund and the Congress contemplating broad tax cut legislation, we simply did not believe increasing aviation taxes passed what we liked to call the "town meeting test." That's why AOPA supported the alternative approach developed by Senator Stevens.
Specifically, I do not believe it is fair to categorize our opposition to S.1239 as a misunderstanding of the clear intent of the supporters of the legislation. We understood its purpose quite well. In a November 8, 1995, letter to the Senate Commerce Committee we stated: " No segment of the aviation industry is exempt from the new training, licensing and regulatory fees imposed under the bill and this is the area which will have the greatest impact on our members. These are services for which our members already pay substantial sums to designated individuals to whom the FAA has delegated authority to perform services on its behalf. The fees under S.1239 are in addition to the amounts our members are already required to pay and they represent a tax increase pure and simple."
But whether or not the definition of "sport and recreation aircraft" could have been further refined to definitively protect the 60 percent of pilots who fly occasionally on business—it wasn't—and misses our primary point. S.1239 was never modified to address our main concern, the user fee regime and its specific new training, licensing and regulatory tax increases on all pilots.
McCain: One of my post-hearing questions asked you whether you agree with the assessment that there will be gridlock in the skies within the next few years if dramatic steps are not taken to improve the ATC system. You response proceeded to criticize the NCARC, but did not really address the underlying question. Although MITRE and others have concluded that technologies exist that may help in the short run, I am not aware of anyone who seriously believes that these technologies will solve the problem of how to handle fully the increased ATC load projected by every reasonable forecast. Do you, or do you not, believe that gridlock will occur without dramatic steps? If not, please explain in detail how the technologies to which you refer negate the gridlock assessment.
Boyer: Yes, I did criticize the National Civil Aviation Review Commission's report; they left out critical assessments made by the MITRE Corporation, and supported by the airlines, detailing ways in which currently available technology can dramatically reduce delays without costing billions or incurring cost overruns. In direct response to your question though, I do not believe that the gridlock will occur in the skies—the FAA will continue to separate and move aircraft—rather, the "choke point" will be the airports. Currently, approximately 75 percent of commercial flights operate out of just 30 airports. While the amount of available airspace surrounding these airports is great and capable of supporting more traffic, it is unlikely a runway will ever be used by more than one aircraft at any given time. We must see a continued dedication to building new runways and gates and other infrastructure—AIR 21 is a move in the right direction.
McCain: What will the MAC do (i.e., how will it advise the administrator) if it can not reach consensus on an important issue?
Boyer: Just as you do, I would recommend submitting majority and minority views to give the administrator the benefit of all views on the matter.