The most vocal user fee proponents usually point north to Nav Canada to demonstrate the "success" of the concept. Yet since the commercialization of air traffic control in Canada, and the imposition of direct fees for ATC services, the system is being dominated by the interest of the airlines.
Now Nav Canada wants to impose new user fees on general aviation as a change in its charging methodology. AOPA, on behalf of U.S. citizens flying in Canada, is objecting.
"This proposal underscores why AOPA opposes a user fee-based system in the United States," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "It reinforces AOPA's stance that Congress (or Parliament in the case of Canada) is the appropriate 'board of directors' for a national air transportation system."
Not only is Nav Canada trying to collect more from GA, it is also attempting to "segregate" users and drive GA away from some airports.
Nav Canada wants to start collecting new "daily charges" from aircraft weighing less than three metric tons (less than 6,614 pounds) using eight major Canadian airports. The charge would start at $5 a day and escalate to $10 a day by 2008.
The Nav Canada proposal notes that "many commercial operators believe that the charges should be substantially increased" for small GA aircraft. And the privatized ATC agency says that "an additional charge would also serve as an incentive for small aircraft to use reliever airports....[which] would have an efficiency benefit for air carrier traffic using the major international airports."
(Nav Canada's Board of Directors is heavily biased with four commercial air carrier representatives, versus only one representative for business and general aviation, three from the federal government, and two representing the ATC unions.)
"A user fee system can generate sufficient funds during the good times, but it falls apart during an economic downturn, which is exactly what happened to Nav Canada after 9/11," said Cebula. The ATC company has instituted various rate increases in an attempt to replenish its "rainy day fund," which was some $116 million in the red in 2003.
AOPA also argued that the costs to collect small GA user fees, particularly from non-Canadian aircraft owners, would likely exceed the revenue from the fees themselves.
"The U.S. national air transportation system is well served by the stable funding stream provided by the existing combination of taxes and general fund contributions," said Cebula. "We find no reason to support a different funding system in a foreign country, and we encourage Nav Canada to reconsider the proposal and not implement the proposed new fees."
Updated: February 22, 2006, 9:36 a.m. EST