FAA Administrator Marion Blakey sent her regrets, along with eight top FAA officials, to Sun ‘n Fun.
She needn’t have worried about an unfriendly crowd at the event’s Meet the FAA forum. Most of the seats in the FAA’s small production studio were filled with people wearing FAA shirts. There were a few outsiders, who provided a spark to an otherwise boring presentation.
User fees were not touched upon until the question and answer portion of the 50-minute session. John King, co-founder of King Schools, asked the FAA officials, who claim that safety is their No. 1 priority, if safety won’t be compromised by the institution of user fees.
“The proposal — and it is a proposal, not law — calls for a fuel tax increase for GA and that’s all,” said the FAA’s Steve Wallace. “We’ve carefully avoided charging a fee for anything that makes things safer. We’re not charging for filing a flight plan or asking about weather.”
The fuel tax increase is getting a lot of debate, added Doug Murphy, regional administrator for the FAA’s Southern region. “There are some charges for certification, such as a pilot’s certificate, but the GA piece of it will be generated principally by the fuel tax,” he said. “Now if GA pilots want to land at airports in certain airspace, there will be a fee for that.”
The proposal is designed to build parity into the system, he noted. “We’re trying to balance it out so that those who use the system pay their proportionate share,” Murphy said.
FAA figures show that GA drives approximately 16% of the costs of air traffic service, but contributes just 3% of the taxes that flow into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, according to a flyer passed out at the end of the session.
“These proposed changes will raise that to 11%, closer to the 16%,” he said.
There are obviously a lot of things in the proposal that pilots don’t like, Murphy noted, adding that pilots shouldn’t just gripe about the proposal, but offer their own solutions.
“If you don’t like user fees, tell us what you like instead,” he challenged the audience.
Paul Borgatti of Mandeville, Louisiana, took Murphy up on his offer. “Let the pilots who want to go into Class B airspace pay, but let the guy with the J-3 who is flying from one uncontrolled airport to another alone. Let him have the ride.”
The FAA’s proposal is “typical government,” he added. “You tell us ‘trust me, give me the money and we’ll spend it right,'” he said. “They put the tea in the Boston Harbor for a reason. Let the people who don’t touch the system alone.”
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