The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is expressing concern about a "user fee option" included in the Bush administration's proposed FAA budget for next fiscal year. The plan would fund the FAA at $13.3 billion, a 6-percent increase over this year.
"We're pleased that this budget would give the FAA all the money mandated by last year's AIR-21 legislation that unlocked the aviation trust fund," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "However, we're disappointed that the administration didn't take this opportunity to kill user fees once and for all."
While the budget plan doesn't specifically call for user fees, it preserves the option for user fees by eliminating an AOPA-supported congressional directive that prohibited the administration from spending taxpayer dollars to develop user fee plans. The budget document also reiterated the administration's suggestion that Congress examine the "success" that nations like Canada have experienced with air traffic control systems owned and operated by private companies.
But Boyer noted that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta had recently said that air traffic control was a government safety function and that an ATC privatization proposal would be "dead on arrival" on Capitol Hill.
"Hopefully, this reflects the administration's current thinking," Boyer said, noting that the privatization debate has changed since the budget document was sent to the printer. He also noted that Congress had rejected user fee proposals from the previous administration seven times.
The Bush FAA budget document also resurrects previous proposals to divert money from airport improvement and air traffic control modernization. For example, more than $74 million of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds could be spent on "administration" and airline subsidies, rather than on runways and other airport infrastructure.
And AOPA is examining another part of the budget proposal that would give the administration "transfer authority" to divert up to $300 million in money slated by AIR-21 for capital improvements such as air traffic control equipment modernization. That money could be transferred, without congressional approval, to such items as salaries.
"We applaud the administration for an overall budget that would fund FAA at the levels necessary to modernize our ATC system and pour the concrete our airports so desperately need," said Boyer. "But the Office of Management and Budget has tried to take away improvement money before, so we'll be watching closely.
"AOPA will work with Congress to ensure that all of the aviation trust fund money that should be spent on improving our aviation system will be spent properly."
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than 58 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.