The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has launched a massive letter-writing campaign to gain Senate support for "unlocking" the aviation trust fund and restoring the general fund contribution to the FAA's budget.
On February 8, AOPA mailed a National Pilot Alert to each of more than 355,000 AOPA members, urging them to write their U.S. senators to request their support for H.R1000, the House FAA reauthorization bill (known as "AIR-21"), which is currently bottled up in conference committee.
"This issue is so important that we put a 33-cent stamp on more than 355,000 pieces of mail," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Only twice before since 1990 has an issue demanded an individual communication with every AOPA member." The last such call to action was in 1994 on product liability reform, a battle won in part by the support of aviation's consumers.
"The key to success this time will be the ability to generate mail to the U.S. Senate, and lots of it," said Boyer. "It's time for aviation in America to get the full benefit of billions already paid in supposedly 'dedicated' aviation taxes, and not to be hit with more taxes or new user fees."
The National Pilot Alert presents the arguments for H.R.1000, offers advice on the most effective ways to communicate with senators, and provides the names and office addresses of the individual AOPA member's two U.S. senators.
The House of Representatives passed H.R.1000 last year by an overwhelming 316-110 majority. Championed by House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), the bill would unlock the aviation trust fund for its intended purpose.
The bill would allow a total of $57.35 billion in aviation excise taxes to be spent from the trust fund for aviation capacity and safety improvements over four years. That's some $14 billion more than Congress would likely approve under current budget rules covering regular "discretionary" spending.
In addition, H.R.1000 would preserve an annual general taxpayer contribution (traditionally about 30 percent of the FAA's total budget), which helps pay for the portion of ATC services and airport improvements that benefit government and military flights not subject to aviation taxes. The general fund contribution also pays for aviation safety regulation, airport security, and other FAA services that benefit the entire population.
The "general fund" contribution also recognizes the taxpayers' responsibility to help underwrite the safety and regulatory function of the FAA. It also helps support the general public benefit of a modern, safe aviation system as a contributor to the national economy.
However, H.R.1000 has remained stalled before a House/Senate conference committee since November. The Senate (which passed a much different FAA reauthorization bill) has opposed unlocking the aviation trust fund from traditional budget politics.
But the Senate had previously given highway and transit funding similar relief in 1998, recognizing that this spending was financed by special user taxes feeding a dedicated highway trust fund. All but one of the Senate conferees blocking H.R.1000 voted for the highway bill (TEA-21).
"Why does the Senate think highways are more deserving than runways?" said Boyer. "The Senate should give aviation the same fair budget treatment, so we can put the aviation trust fund to work as intended for capacity and safety improvements in aviation."
H.R.1000 would allow the dependable flow of necessary funds to upgrade the aging airway system, Boyer said. For non-scheduled aviation (a lighter user of the air traffic control system), fair budget treatment could accelerate the long-overdue modernization of FAA flight service stations. It could also boost improvements to general aviation airports and fund greater capabilities for the GPS satellite system that promises more flexible air navigation and safer precision instrument approaches to thousands more airports.
"If we don't unlock the trust fund, aviation users will face new taxes or user fees," said Boyer. "The administration has tried for user fees since 1995, and they've proposed them again for 2001.
"Aviation users have paid their taxes into the aviation trust fund for three decades now. Instead of leaving those taxes idle to build up a trust fund surplus, it's time to start spending that money fully to improve our national aviation infrastructure."
A copy of the National Pilot Alert is available on AOPA Online.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Some 55 percent of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
February 10, 2000