The House got it right, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the world's largest civil aviation association. The House last night introduced its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding bill, which would modernize the air traffic control (ATC) system, increase airport funding, and do it all within the existing tax structure and without user fees.
"The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and aviation subcommittee refused to be bullied by the airlines or accept the FAA's claims of poverty," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "They took a reasoned, rational look at what needed to be done and how to pay for it, and delivered a solution that promotes the interests of all segments of aviation.
"We will ask AOPA members to let their congressional representatives know that we support the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 (H.R.2881)," Boyer said. "And we thank Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), and ranking members John Mica (R-Fla.) and Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) for their vision in crafting this bipartisan bill that would ensure America's air transportation system remains the best in the world."
Working within the existing funding structure of aviation fuel taxes and passenger ticket taxes, the bipartisan House bill would provide historic funding levels for the FAA over the next four years.
Nearly $13 billion would be available for ATC modernization, NextGen (the ATC modernization program) and other FAA capital improvements. That's more than $1 billion beyond what the administration proposed in the FAA's actual bill.
Airports would be slated for $15.8 billion in improvements over the course of the bill - some $4 billion more than what the administration proposed. The Transportation Committee adjusted some of the funding formulas to ensure that smaller general aviation airports - which have no other significant source of capital improvement money - would receive a reasonable amount of these Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds.
"And the committee was able to significantly enhance the FAA's budget without resorting to radical new funding schemes or user fees," said Boyer.
Closer to the pocketbook of most pilots, the Transportation Committee will recommend a modest increase in aviation fuel taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the ultimate authority to set taxes.
Jet fuel taxes would increase from 21.8 to 30.7 cents per gallon, and avgas taxes would go from 19.3 to 24.1 cents per gallon.
"That's less than a nickel increase for avgas and is based on the rate of inflation since the last reauthorization in 1998," said Boyer. "It's a price worth paying to take our aviation system to the future. And it's a whole heck of a lot better than the 263-percent tax increase and user fees that the FAA wanted."
But while the committee was willing to give the FAA more than enough to build NextGen, it also took stern measures to make sure the money would be spent wisely.
In particular, committee members cast a wary eye over the FAA's plans to contract out the building and operating of the ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) system, the "backbone" of NextGen.
They noted that the FAA's first effort at contracting out a major service - the flight service station system, had significant start-up problems. "Given the large scale of the [ADS-B] acquisition, the bill requires the FAA to insert provisions into the contract that will protect the government's interest and help the FAA to ensure uninterrupted service," noted a committee summary of the bill.
And they didn't ignore current flight service station problems. "Users have reported serious and systemic safety-related technical and operational performance problems [with the AFSS system]," the committee said.
The bill would "require the FAA to establish a system to monitor the staffing of flight service stations and the training of specialists, as well as any other safety or customer service issues relating to [Lockheed Martin's] performance of the contract. When Boyer and aviation subcommittee Chairman Costello discussed H.R.2881 last night, Costello indicated that they need to talk further about the flight service station problems.
The bill also proposes some increases or new charges for specific FAA services, such as aircraft registration or certificate issuances. AOPA is currently analyzing these charges as part of its line-by-line review of the 168-page bill. "In concept, these charges are really no different than what most states do for driver's licenses or boat and car registration," said Boyer, "and recognizing that legislation is always compromise, nothing at this point dampens our enthusiasm for this forward-looking FAA funding-reauthorization bill."
"As we consider the three FAA reauthorization bills now pending before Congress, the FAA's bill is totally unacceptable. And thankfully, it appears to be dead," Boyer said. "The Senate addressed many of general aviation's concerns in its version, but the imposition of $25 per flight air traffic control user fee would ultimately and inevitably harm general aviation," Boyer said.
"The members of the House Transportation Committee truly listened to our members and their constituents, and understood all of the issues confronting general aviation.
"The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 would pay for the badly needed modernization of America's air traffic control system, would provide money to maintain and improve the general aviation airports that are vital to the total system, and it would do so without imposing the user fees that have led to the near extinction of general aviation in countries like Australia, New Zealand, England, and Germany. This is a great bill."
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the FAA funding bill June 28. It will now be considered by other House committees before being sent to the House floor for a vote.
With 412,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation association. Some two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of the association, which is dedicated to protecting the interests of general aviation.
June 28, 2007