The FAA answers to a higher power - Congress - but user fees and privatization of air traffic control services could remove that important oversight function from the hands of elected officials, AOPA warned. AOPA made its comments in response to an FAA document on funding ATC and other critical components of the nation's aviation system.
But loss of accountability isn't the only problem with user fees, which AOPA has repeatedly told the FAA are not an acceptable means of funding the agency in the future.
"The FAA must be very careful not to advance funding policies that would dismantle the air transportation network," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Virtually every citizen in the country benefits from this system that is so crucial to the nation's economy - whether or not they ever fly."
That's why AOPA supports using contributions from the general fund to cover at least 25 percent of the FAA's budget - a method used to support the marine transportation infrastructure. AOPA also supports using excise taxes on fuel, like those already in place, to fund the FAA and ensure that it remains accountable to Congress and taxpayers.
Safety is also at stake. With a fee-for-service system, some pilots will simply avoid talking to air traffic control even when they need to - putting themselves, their passengers, and other aircraft at risk.
"Instead of imposing user fees to fill perceived shortfalls, the FAA should work with the aviation community to find cost savings by eliminating FAA services that are no longer needed and to identify creative ways to fund the capital improvements needed to modernize the air traffic control system," Boyer said.
AOPA has argued that user fees would disproportionately impact general aviation pilots, who are the only system users who must pay out of their own pockets, while the airlines can transfer their costs to passengers.
For almost a year, the FAA has increasingly voiced concern that the Airport and Airway Trust Fund is running out of money, even though the Office of Management and Budget says otherwise. The agency forcefully stated those concerns - and made its case for imposing user fees - in a document titled "Questions on Future Funding of the Air Traffic Control System, Other Aviation System Components, and Related Issues" that was recently published in the Federal Register. AOPA's comments to the agency were written in response to that document.
The FAA stated a need for a consistent and stable revenue stream, ignoring that fact that the existing system of taxes and congressional budget processes have provided just that for years. Since 1982, the FAA's operation spending level has grown from $2.9 billion to $7.7 billion. This has financed billions of dollars in investments in airports, air traffic control equipment, and facilities and operations of the FAA. In years when the balances in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund were high, and in those times when it was low, the FAA has benefited from the stability provided by the unified federal budget process.
October 27, 2005