When it comes to the FAA funding debate, "what it's really all about is a huge tax break for the airlines," AOPA President Phil Boyer said June 2 during an informal hangar session during the AOPA Fly-In and Open House.
Most pilots are aware of the threat of user fees and increased taxes on general aviation. Boyer simplified the issue into three points.
"First, take user fees off the table, even for the airlines. User fees are the beginning of the end of general aviation as we know it. Second, know that the airlines are trying for another giant financial bailout by removing the only aviation tax that they pay. Finally, if there is a need to address growing use of the system by some segments of general aviation, primarily corporate operators, then let's pay for that with an incremental increase in the fuel tax."
The only aviation tax the airlines, as corporations, pay is a 4.3-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, Boyer said. Airline passengers pay a ticket tax that goes directly to the government. The Senate FAA funding bill proposes to eliminate the airline fuel tax and replace it with a $25 surcharge for each flight on all turbine-powered aircraft flying in controlled airspace.
"Why in the world, if we're talking about more money for airports, and more money for air traffic control modernization, would you eliminate the only tax the airlines pay?" asked Boyer.
He also called the surcharge a "user fee in disguise, and that's the start down the slippery slope."
"We must not allow the words 'user fees' to get into any segment of aviation," said Boyer. "We are fighting the precedent, and this is why I need your backing."
But he also said that AOPA wasn't holding on tightly to status quo. "I don't want to come off here as 'no, not us,'" Boyer said, noting that everything has gone up in price and that aviation gasoline taxes haven't changed in 10 years.
And he pointed out that as long as aviation is funded only by taxes, Congress remains in control. But a fee system puts the power in governing boards, and both bills that have advanced so far would give the airlines the majority of the seats on the governing board.
"As a 412,000-member organization, we want Congress in control," said Boyer, noting the effectiveness of AOPA member political action.
"It is the power, the power of a large grass roots organization," said Boyer. "I'm so proud to be your leader, and so proud to have your support."
[ See the complete coverage of AOPA's Fly-In and Open House.]
June 2, 2007