The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association once again reiterated its opposition to user fees on any segment of aviation. That following President Clinton's issuance of an executive order December 7 creating the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) within the FAA to run the air traffic control system.
Clinton's order also called on Congress to finance air traffic control with "cost-based charges on commercial users of the air traffic system," replacing existing excise taxes with user fees. He directed the FAA to determine how airports could implement "congestion pricing" landing fees to discourage use during busy periods.
"There is no financial crisis," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "User fees, for any segment of aviation, are the wrong answer."
Boyer noted that, thanks to the AIR-21 legislation, Congress has provided the FAA sufficient funds to modernize the air traffic control system. AIR-21 increased the FAA's budget $3 billion in this fiscal year alone. And Congress must approve any changes to air traffic services financing.
"The administration is trying to go out the same way it came in," said Boyer. "In 1993, the White House proposed the user fee-funded USATS (U.S. Air Traffic Services Corporation). Congress rejected it. The administration has tried for user fees every year since, and Congress has rejected user fees for seven years running."
According to AOPA, user fees won't reduce airline delays, but they do remove congressional oversight.
"Who will watch out for the interests of the flying public and general aviation? How will airline passengers feel about increased ticket costs? Who will protect general aviation from being 'priced out' of many airports?" Boyer asked. "Aviation excise taxes remain the most efficient way to generate sufficient funds for FAA operations."
The executive order creating the Air Traffic Organization within the FAA actually changes very little, according to AOPA.
"Most of what the president did was already required by AIR-21 and other reform legislation that AOPA members helped move through Congress," said Boyer. "Congress has given the FAA the tools to operate in a more business-like manner."
The ATO will be headed by a chief operating officer who will report to the FAA administrator. A five-member air traffic control subcommittee of the FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC) will serve as a "board of directors," providing oversight and advice to the air traffic control organization.
President Clinton also named the members of that subcommittee, who by law cannot have direct ties to the aviation industry. The appointees include the former Republican senator from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, who was instrumental in the passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act.
"With or without the president's executive order, the FAA has the tools and the necessary funding to modernize air traffic control and run it efficiently," said Boyer. "The agency has already taken steps in the right direction. We'll push for continued progress."
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association represents the interests of general aviation, the non-airline segment of aviation. General aviation comprises 96 percent of the nation's aircraft fleet, flying more than 30 million hours a year. More than one half of the nation's pilots and three quarters of the aircraft owners are AOPA members.
December 8, 2000