One size does not fit all: Mineta says no to user fees

The FAA’s funding problems won’t be solved by user fees if Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has any say in the matter.

“I can tell you right now, from my perspective, the solution will not be user fees,” Mineta told more than 1,000 pilots at the opening session of the AOPA Expo earlier this month. “The fuel tax is the best way to finance the needs of aviation.”

Earlier this year, federal officials began talking about the funding crisis facing the Aviation Trust Fund. “We can’t build the future with the fund as it is,” Mineta said. “This April we opened the dialogue to find a financial mechanism that’s fair to all stakeholders, including GA.”

The “principles” guiding the efforts to find that new mechanism include the need for a “sustainable and predictable funding stream,” as well as users having a say in how the system will be financed, he said. “But we need to be realistic about the federal deficit and the strain on the budget,” he added. “We’re working with the FAA to streamline costs, but at the end of the day, I image everyone is going to have to hurt a little. We don’t have to settle on a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The federal government, he added, has “no plans to compromise the safety of the system with our funding proposal.”

That’s why the fuel tax “resonates” with transportation officials, he said.

User fees would discourage people from filing flight plans and using other Flight Service Station services, which would compromise safety, he explained. “I would rather do things to promote safety,” he said.

While Mineta is against user fees, GA advocates must continue to be outspoken as the process continues, AOPA officials noted. Mineta agreed. “Still hold up your vigil,” he advised.

During his Expo speech and in answering questions from the audience, Mineta spoke on a wide range of topics, including airport encroachment, ATC privatization and the Washington, D.C., ADIZ (see separate story on page 12). “Too many pilots still violate restricted airspace — hardly a day goes by without it happening,” he said. “This occurs because pilots aren’t paying attention. They didn’t exercise the care and due diligence that has been taught them since their first days as pilots. The GA community must do a better job of policing its members.”

And don’t expect security measures to loosen any time soon. “The ADIZ was created because we know the area continues to be a terrorist target,” he said. “That threat remains as real today as it was four years ago and it is likely to remain so.”

While dealing with the restrictions, GA also needs to continue its education and outreach programs to the general public, as well as elected officials. “Whether it’s Katrina, Rita, Wilma, the horrific events of Sept. 11 or just in terms of the value of everyday general aviation, you need to talk to your friends and local leaders, day in and day out, about GA,” Mineta said. “There’s no question that GA is an important part of our economy.”

He noted that GA contributes more than $40 billion to the national economy, while providing jobs for more than 1 million people.

“GA will be very much a vital part of the future of flight,” he said. “I cannot wait to see what new heights you will take in the second century of flight.”

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