WASHINGTON, D.C. — The user fee/fuel tax issue is consuming much of the time and energy of aviation advocates here but, win or lose the battle, general aviation will continue to have difficult struggles with the airlines for months — or perhaps years — to come.
That was obvious from statements made by officials at the Air Transport Association (ATA) when the funding plan was announced.
James May, president and CEO of ATA, called the funding plan “”a good step forward,”" but added “”we have deep concerns over a number of elements of the proposal.”" The real congestion issue, he continued, is not the airports but the congested airspace around the airports the airlines use. As an example, he claims that 20% of the en route traffic in the New York City area comes from general aviation traffic that does not use the large airports. Translation: airspace around airports where airlines fly should be for airlines.
Another ATA dissatisfaction with the proposal is that it uses weight as a basis for fees. He claims heavier planes should not be charged more than lighter ones for traveling the same distance.
The ATA chief also faults the FAA for its airport improvement program (AIP) proposal. He cries that airline passengers would be paying subsidies for non-commercial airports. Translation: airports the airlines use need more money because they have to make runways longer and thicker to handle giant transports.
May said the ATA sees the proposal as “”only a starting point”" and “”looks forward to working with Congress and the administration to build a 21st century ATC system supported by equitable, sustainable funding.”"
Such statements foretell that even if the general aviation associations working the Congress are successful in beating back the fee/fuel tax issue with this renewal of the FAA authorization, efforts by the airlines to control the skies and airports will continue.
So, the wrangling will continue and heat up in the coming months. As this goes on, the airline industry will continue to use an easy-to-understand emotional appeal — “”general aviation isn’t paying a fair share”" — while general aviation groups seek to counter this with logic, which requires much time and detail to convey. This is a difficult route for general aviation. Experts say that people react to emotion. In fact, for every action based on logic, the average person will take 20 based on emotions.
The first reaction in Congress has been that the fee/tax program will have trouble, at least in the aviation subcommittees. During a hearing in the House on the budget, several members stated opposition, even to the point of declaring that the plan “”was dead on arrival.”" In the Senate, Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chair of the full committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said the FAA “”must make a strong case for changing the aviation financing structure.”"
These were statements made during the hearings for the administration’s fiscal year budget request. Neither side of Capitol Hill has taken up the reauthorization of FAA, where the fee/tax issue will get a much deeper scrutiny and where witnesses for the various sides may make statements and be questioned by the lawmakers.
The House subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for March 14 at which the issue will be examined more closely. This is one day before the annual FAA forecast conference, where the agency will reveal its best guesses for the growth of flying over the next decade.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.