General aviation's allies on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and aviation subcommittee united Wednesday, voicing scathing reviews of the FAA's proposed avgas tax hike and user fee-based air traffic control system.
During the House aviation subcommittee meeting that day, Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) accused the FAA of "gulping the airline Kool-Aid" and said the proposal was a "solution looking for a problem that doesn't yet exist."
"Our focus should be on making the system work better," Rep. Hayes said. "It's working pretty darn well now. We don't need a sledgehammer, which is this very costly system, to drive a carpet tack."
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who has served on the House aviation subcommittee for 13 years, challenged the FAA's cost projections for the NextGen ATC modernization program: "I've noticed a considerable number of cost overruns every time the FAA introduces a new generation of equipment."
That's one reason AOPA is adamant that Congress must maintain oversight of the FAA budget.
"Giving the FAA the right to set user fees is a blank check," cautioned Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), a fellow AOPA member.
Other members of Congress directly attacked the proposed fourfold increase in avgas tax from 19.4 cents per gallon to 70.1 cents.
"I'm concerned about general aviation," said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.). "You [the FAA] talk about your tax increase, but you don't talk about what everyone is actually paying for fuel.... If we drive a lot of people out of this industry, including the FBOs, what have we really done to increase revenues [to the FAA]? I'm for sharing the [tax] burden, but I want to make sure that at the end of the day, there are enough gallons being bought."
Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) explained that GA fuels were down 23 percent in his state and that the FAA's proposal would further the problem.
"Airport managers tell me this is directly tied to the price of fuel," Rep. Salazar said. "Adding an additional 50 cents on top of the existing price could cripple general aviation."
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), referring to his district as "the Air Capital of the World," voiced the same concern about the crippling effect the FAA's proposal would have on GA.
"If the FAA proposal is adopted, it would devastate the economy of south-central Kansas," Tiahrt said. "I believe that it will have a devastating effect on the national economy as well."
"Members of Congress know that this proposal would cripple the economy in their states and nationwide," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "They are listening to the concerns of GA pilots, aircraft owners, and airport managers. And as Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) said at the hearing, they'll 'do right by aviation.'"
March 23, 2007