The first shoe has dropped on the future of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration with the release of the Bush administration's proposed budget for fiscal year 2008. As the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the world's largest aviation association, and the rest of the general aviation (GA) community had feared, it calls for a combination of user fees and dramatic fuel excise tax hikes.
"This is real, and it's just as bad as we thought it was going to be," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It's going to take an all-out fight by the aviation community to defeat this. So now we're turning to Congress to combat such an ill-conceived funding scheme."
President Bush released his $2.9 trillion spending plan in four massive volumes. The overarching philosophy is to increase military spending while squeezing the rest of the government. Unfortunately, the proposal would radically alter the funding mechanism for the world's largest, safest, and most successful air traffic control system. If that were not enough, the budget would slash airport funding by $1 billion.
The president's budget sets the tone for the FAA's coming reauthorization bill, which needs to be passed into law by the end of this September. The bill will determine who pays what and how much the FAA will receive in its budget.
"While we won't know the specifics until the actual FAA reauthorization proposal is released later this month, we have strong reason to believe it will increase GA fuel taxes by nearly fourfold," said Boyer. "As if a huge tax increase isn't bad enough, the budget makes it clear that the FAA will charge user fees for GA operations in 'the nation's most congested airspace,' which sounds like Class B airspace."
AOPA maintains that the current system has worked well over the past four decades and should be preserved. Special interests in Washington, D.C., are coalescing to destroy it. The FAA wants user fees, which are different than taxes, because the source of funding would allow it to sidestep the congressional budget process. The agency could spend the money the way it wants to without congressional scrutiny and use the fees to fund its manufactured budgetary crisis. The White House Office of Management and Budget, meanwhile, wants to spend less from the Treasury's general funds to help reduce the budget deficit. And the airlines simply want to wrest control of the system and use it for their own benefit.
No one has explained how the user fees would be collected and accounted for.
"All this ridiculous funding scheme would do is make aviation more expensive and more complex," Boyer said. "Why destroy a critical function that the government actually does well?"
The more than 410,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has represented the interests of general aviation pilots since 1939. General aviation includes all flying except the scheduled airlines and the military. More than two-thirds of all U.S. pilots, and three-quarters of the GA pilots, are AOPA members.
Editors: For more information on the FAA funding debate and to see the video and PowerPoint presentation from AOPA's Washington, D.C., news briefing on the issue, visit the AOPA Online Newsroom at www.aopa.org/newsroom/.
February 6, 2007