By AOPA Communications staff
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters this week told a gathering of aviation industry leaders in Washington, D.C., that Congress needs to act, and act soon, on an FAA reauthorization bill. But other than that, there was very little on which AOPA could agree. Her speech presented the same old administration song and dance to the tune of user fees, excessive tax increases on general aviation, and congestion pricing for access into certain large airports.
Speaking to the Aero Club of Washington, Peters noted that it’s been nearly a year since the Bush administration sent its proposal containing radical financing changes to Capitol Hill for consideration. Both the House and the Senate rejected that proposal for user fees and a 70-cent-per-gallon tax on avgas and jet fuel in favor of the current tax-based structure, although the Senate retained vestiges of the administration’s user fee proposal. In late summer, the full House approved its version (H.R.2881), supported by AOPA, but the Senate has yet to bring its two competing versions to the floor for debate.
“The House has passed a version that contains the elements necessary for a good reauthorization bill that funds air traffic control modernization and airport development with a tax-based funding mechanism and no user fees,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “The aviation community has been waiting for more than four months now for the Senate to act on FAA funding.”
In a statement issued the morning after Peters’ comments, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, reminded Peters that the House has done its part and joined the call for the Senate to act soon.
“I am sure that Secretary Peters remembers that the House of Representatives passed H.R.2881, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007, last September,” Costello said. “It took the introduction and passage of that legislation and the rigorous oversight hearings our subcommittee held for the Department of Transportation and the FAA to take action on so many of the issues Secretary Peters mentioned yesterday.”
The House version contains no user fees and inflation-adjusted increases in general aviation fuel taxes. The Senate Commerce Committee has approved a $25 user fee for turbine aircraft, which AOPA opposes because of concerns about the fee’s potential to expand to cover all users. The Finance Committee has recommended an all-tax financing structure, again supported by AOPA, which would eliminate the user fee. The two versions need to be reconciled in the full Senate, then the Senate and House need to agree on a compromise version that can be sent to the White House for President Bush’s signature.
In the meantime, a stopgap measure is keeping the FAA operating through February. But pending airport improvement projects are stuck in a holding pattern because the temporary funding does not give the FAA permission to approve new projects.
“Holdups on Capitol Hill threaten even more delays to much needed long-term modernization and, more immediately, badly needed improvements at airports large and small,” Boyer noted.
January 24, 2008