AOPA President Phil Boyer preached the "no user fee" gospel to one of the most influential audiences today. He testified before the House aviation subcommittee, the committee with the most direct influence on how the FAA is funded.
"AOPA members - your constituents - are strongly opposed to a user fee-funded aviation system," Boyer said in his prepared testimony delivered to the committee in advance of the hearing. "The current excise tax on aviation fuel is an equitable measure of general aviation's use of the National Airspace System because fuel consumption directly relates to operating the aircraft."
To drive home the point, Boyer will show the committee members letters from AOPA members in their districts, proving how pilot voters feel about general aviation user fees.
"I am forced on occasion to make payments to the privatized system in Canada. I'm not impressed," wrote a Minnesota pilot. "Our people and our system are really hard to beat. I hope we don't destroy something as good as this in the name of privatization."
An entrepreneur from Massachusetts wrote, "Without the benefits of the FAA system as presently configured, I would not be able to conduct and grow my business. In fact, if additional costs were imposed on the use of my airplane through a user fee-based system, it would limit severely our ability to grow and ultimately our ability to survive."
Boyer will tell the aviation subcommittee that a user-fee system would denigrate safety. "A piecemeal system of fees and charges gives pilots a direct financial incentive to avoid using the safety features and programs provided within the National Airspace System." Noting that AOPA, through its Air Safety Foundation, has worked with the FAA to bring general aviation accidents down to an historic low, Boyer's testimony reads, "It would be counterintuitive to allow the FAA to shift to a user fee-funded system after general aviation has had the lowest number of accidents and lowest accident rate since 1938."
Boyer also will point out the inherent efficiency in the current tax system. The IRS estimated in 1996 that the collection and administrative costs for the excise tax are only 0.001 percent to the total collected - $1.7 million to collect $5.5 billion.
"Collecting user fees would require a huge new accounting bureaucracy," Boyer will say. "The reality of such a system is that the users will have to pay much more in order to generate the same amount of net revenue for the FAA."
He will also tell Congress that the FAA must get its costs under control before seeking new "revenue streams." In the last decade, the FAA's budget has grown at almost three times the rate of inflation.
He will argue that the FAA and aviation industry should work together to find ways to make the agency more efficient.
"AOPA has shown a commitment to reducing the costs of services utilized by the general aviation community and at the same time looked for ways to improve safety by enhancing the quality of FAA services," Boyer's testimony says, citing the competitive sourcing for flight service stations, elimination of redundant ground navigation aids, nighttime closure of low-volume control towers, and transition to the space-based GPS/WAAS navigation system, which ultimately will cost much less to operate and maintain than current ground-based navigation aids.
And Boyer will point out that general aviation is not what drives the FAA's costs.
"A National Airspace System designed solely for general aviation would look vastly different and cost much less than the current system," Boyer said.
Update: May 4, 2005