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EAA President Tom Poberezny, NBAA President Ed Bolen, GAMA President Peter Bunce, and Boyer.

Andy Cebula, AOPA executive VP of
government affairs, and Boyer prepare
for the FAA funding presentation
inside AOPA's Big Yellow Tent at Oshkosh.

Help us fight user fees, Boyer and other GA leaders ask pilots at Oshkosh

We like H.R.2881, the FAA funding bill in the House of Representatives. We don't like the Senate's version because of the user fees.

That was the essential message presented by AOPA President Phil Boyer, EAA President Tom Poberezny, NBAA President Ed Bolen, and GAMA President Pete Bunce to several hundred pilots during a panel discussion at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on July 25.

And it was the message readily endorsed by thousands of pilots walking around Oshkosh sporting AOPA "Stop User Fees — Support H.R. 2881" stickers on their chests.

Bolen and Bunce presented a basic, factual recitation of the Senate bill and the House bill (H.R.2881), while Boyer, in an effort to help pilots better understand why the airlines are arguing so hard for user fees, played a little "devil's advocate" as a stand-in for Air Transport Association President James May. "Know your enemy," Boyer said. (ATA represents most of the major airlines.)

Boyer explained that May is a "hired gun" — a highly effective Washington insider with strong ties in the Senate. He described the Senate bill, known by its bill number as S.1300, as the "airline bill."

"We get to give up the only tax we pay and we'll sneak in a $25 fee that opens the door to a privatized air traffic control system," said Boyer in his guise as May. "This is only the beginning of what we can do."

On the other hand Boyer/May said, "We view the House bill with disappointment," because it does nothing to advance the airlines' goals of making general aviation pay more, the airlines pay less, and putting the airlines in control of the ATC system.

Not surprisingly, all four general aviation leaders support the very bill the airlines do not. All four say that H.R.2881 is best for the future of all aviation.

The Senate bill introduces user fees, NBAA's Ed Bolen told the audience, starting down a slippery slope that would eventually leave GA in the United States as devastated as it is in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. And it introduces an industry board of directors (dominated by the airlines) to oversee the air traffic control system, instead of relying on a representative democracy.

The Senate bill, said Bolen, reduces the amount that both the airlines and the general public contribute to the aviation trust fund, while demanding that GA pay more.

On the other hand, GAMA's Pete Bunce said, the House bill, H.R.2881, is a good bill that is fair to all parties. It does not introduce user fees. And, Bunce noted, "In this bill, nobody pays less." The airlines continue to pay a small fuel tax — it does not go up. Passengers would pay a slightly increased passenger facility charge, and general aviation would pay a marginally higher fuel tax, adjusted for inflation for the first time since the early 1990s.

So where do we go from here? "To the court of public opinion," said Bolen. Congressional members, he said, do not operate in a vacuum. Pilots need to express their support for H.R.2881 and explain why they oppose the Senate version.

"Right now both bills are still in committee," said Boyer. "But soon the time will come when we will ask every pilot to weigh in with their elected representatives in Congress. And we will need everyone's support to help ensure that H.R.2881 is what becomes law. General aviation's future depends upon it."

July 25, 2007

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