Congress has once again extended the current FAA funding system, preserving the status quo on aviation taxes until Sept. 30.
“The good news is that aviation fuel taxes won’t change during the summer flying season, and there are no new user fees,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “And this extension will let airports spend all of their Airport Improvement Program grants during this construction season.
“The bad news is that user fees still remain a possibility,” Boyer said. “The administration and the airlines have not given up, and until Congress passes and the president signs a new FAA funding bill without fees, we remain at risk.”
The FAA has been operating under a series of budget extensions since the previous FAA funding legislation lapsed. The House passed a new funding bill (H.R.2881) last year. That bill has no user fees but modestly increases aviation fuel taxes to account for inflation and funding for NextGen (next generation) air traffic control modernization.
The Senate, however, has been wrangling over two FAA bills—one with fees, one without. In April, however, the leaders of the Finance and Commerce committees (both have jurisdiction on different aspects of FAA funding and taxes) reached a compromise and presented a bill to the full Senate that increased jet fuel taxes but excluded user fees. The full Senate couldn’t come to agreement on the compromise bill because of contention over some nonaviation-related issues that had been included in the legislation.
This most recent extension will take taxes and FAA spending to the end of the federal fiscal year. The short-term extension is seen as some indication that aviation leaders in the Senate still want to shoot for a new, comprehensive FAA funding bill before this Congress adjourns.
But even if this Congress passes a final FAA funding bill without user fees, we still won’t be able to say we’ve reached our destination. The Bush White House has been clinging to user fees, and has threatened to veto any bill that doesn’t give the airlines more control over the air traffic control system and doesn’t include user fees for everyone talking to ATC.