The fight over how to fund the FAA is really an argument about who will control the national air transportation system. During a debate Tuesday at the Aero Club of Washington between AOPA President Phil Boyer and the airlines' chief lobbyist, James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association (ATA), Boyer laid out AOPA's fundamental opposition to a user fee-based system: Elected officials in Congress control the purse strings when tax dollars are used, but unelected appointees get to say how user fees are spent.
Boyer opened the debate with a withering assessment of the three FAA reauthorization fights he's been through. Every time it came time to renew the FAA funding legislation, he said, the airlines always tried for a giant tax cut for themselves and more control over the world's safest and most efficient air traffic control system.
"And this time, the airlines have manufactured every crisis they can to put the ill on general aviation," Boyer told the high-powered audience of congressional staff members, FAA officials, and national news media at the Washington Aero Club.
But Boyer said that AOPA and the airlines were very close on many issues, including the need to modernize the ATC system.
"Our fundamental concern is the introduction of a user fee to any segment of aviation, whether it be $5 or $25," said Boyer, referring specifically to the Senate's FAA funding bill. "Even if it were just the airlines [paying user fees], to put that structure in place would be a slippery slope. As we've seen around the world, these fees always trickle down to general aviation, with devastating economic results."
May was willing to drop user fees for GA. "I've never advocated a collection formula," he said. "The collection method should be wide open to the user." But he continued to insist that corporate aviation was not paying enough.
"I don't have any grief with Phil at all," said May. Piston GA is exempt from user fees in the Senate bill and I support that. My beef quite frankly is with the corporate jets. I'm just trying to find a little balance from some folks who can easily afford to pay their fair share."
But Boyer made clear to the audience of aviation professionals, including many airline representatives, that general aviation remains united as never before against the introduction of any fee-based funding system. An assault against any segment is an assault against the entire industry.
Boyer then pointed out that if paying one's "fair share" was the only criteria for funding a transportation system, only 15 states would have interstate and federal highways. The federal roads in all the other states are "subsidized" by drivers in 15 states.
"We have the best air transportation system in the world," said Boyer. "Let's consider very carefully before we muck up a funding system that has served us so well."
AOPA and its more than 411,000 members are committed to finding a common-sense solution that will pay to modernize America's air traffic control system - the safest and most efficient in the world - while preserving the world's most vibrant general aviation community.
Editors: For more information on AOPA's position regarding the FAA funding issue, visit www.aopa.org/faafundingdebate/.
May 23, 2007