User fees inevitable?

Last November, at AOPA Expo, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta claimed that the FAA’s funding problems wouldn’t be solved by user fees.

“The fuel tax is the best way to finance the needs of aviation,” he told a standing-room-only crowd of pilots.

But Mineta’s tune has changed. Late last month, Mineta told the Aero Club of Washington, D.C., that soon “the Bush Administration will propose a new, cost-based financing system for the FAA.”

Starting last April, federal officials began talking about the funding crisis with the Aviation Trust Fund, which, Mineta claims, is at its lowest balance since 1977. The fund is fed by taxes on airline tickets.

“We opened the dialogue on finding a better finance mechanism for the future last April,” he said. “Many of you have been part of those discussions. And some very good, and very creative, ideas have emerged. We are in the final stages of shaping those ideas into what I believe will be a solid, forward-looking financing proposal that allocates the burden fairly.

“I cannot give you the details yet, but I expect that we are going to see a cost-based plan that creates a more direct relationship between revenue collected and services provided, which will ultimately make it more responsive to the users,” he said.

The airlines have been pushing for user fees for GA. Airlines claim they pay the lion’s share of the money into the Aviation Trust Fund, but use only two-thirds of the system.

GA advocacy groups pounced on Mineta’s remarks, as well as those by airline executives, urging their members to write to Congress to oppose user fees for GA.

“Secretary Mineta’s statements are a troubling indication that the ink is nearly dry on a plan that attempts to impose user fees on our industry,” said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association.

“The air carriers are engaged in a coordinated effort to displace their economic problems and failing business model on everybody else,” said Earl Lawrence, vice president of industry and regulatory affairs for the Experimental Aircraft Association. “A main scapegoat is general aviation, which the carriers allege is not paying its fair share. In particular, the airlines are targeting business aviation and the promising new very light jet industry in an effort to increase the cost of operating those aircraft and reduce the competition they pose to the airlines’ business traveler market.”

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