AOPA President Phil Boyer stood his ground May 4 as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain challenged AOPA's opposition to user fees for FAA services.
"General aviation already pays its 'user fees' through federal fuel excise taxes," Boyer told McCain. "No, we don't need to impose individual charges for air traffic control services."
President Clinton nominated Boyer to be the voice of general aviation pilots and aircraft owners on the prestigious new FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC). The Senate Commerce Committee hearing is part of the confirmation process for all MAC nominees.
In a terse exchange, McCain pushed the user fees proposal. Boyer answered that the aviation trust fund should be funded by the taxes that pilots and aircraft owners pay when they purchase aviation fuel.
McCain then asked MAC nominees representing the airlines and pilot unions if they were for user fees. Both supported a "performance based" system that would charge a user fee every time an aircraft used ATC services.
Because of AOPA's continued opposition to user fees, McCain then told Boyer, "I seriously question your qualifications for this council."
Ironically, it was AOPA that first proposed the FAA Management Advisory Council in 1994. Congress created the MAC in 1996, but the White House did not nominate anyone to serve on the council until this year.
The MAC is intended to provide "an oversight resource for management, policy, spending, and regulatory matters under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration." The MAC will advise the FAA administrator on modernizing the air traffic control system and ways to make the agency more efficient and "businesslike."
Earlier in the hearing, Boyer had detailed his decades of business and management experience outside Washington. The AOPA president, only the third person to hold the office in 61 years, spent three decades in the broadcasting industry. Included were 27 years in top management and development positions at the ABC television network and its Capital Cities/ABC corporate parent in New York. (See Boyer's written testimony.)
The disagreement between Boyer and McCain dates back to 1995. McCain has objected to AOPA's forceful efforts to advocate its members' opposition to general aviation user fees.
AOPA argues that user fees would be inefficient and a detriment to safety.
The association also maintains that general aviation is not causing the increasing number of airline flight delays. The vast majority of general aviation pilots fly under visual flight rules (meaning they don't use the en route air traffic control system) and do not use airports with heavy airline traffic.
The 360,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
May 5, 2000