Questions abound about user fees

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Over the past few years, several reports have been written about suggestions, proposals, and announcements that new fees would be placed on aviation. Most recent of them refer to a fee of $100 per landing for jet aircraft introduced in the President’s budget for 2013.

Following published stories of these reports and rumors, a few people in general aviation have commented that the reporting has been incomplete because — they believed — it did not stress that the fee would apply only to jets, and therefore was not of concern to the average general aviation pilot. It is time to clarify the reporting and to show why those individuals and groups who see the whole aviation picture remain concerned.

Obama’s budget states that the $100 fee would exempt military aircraft, public aircraft, air ambulances, personal recreational piston aircraft, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada traffic — so why should the typical pilot of piston-powered aircraft be concerned?

Here’s why:

None of the details have been written down or explained to find out what and who are actually intended as the targets for paying the proposed fee. In fact, the presidential announcements raise many questions.

For instance: If air ambulances are exempt, does that mean humanitarian flights in business jets carrying ill or injured persons are also exempt? Will Angel Flights be subject to a $100 charge when transporting injured individuals and their families, financially distressed persons needing transportation for medical reasons, other charitable flights, or will they be considered air ambulances and be exempt?

What are personal, recreational aircraft? Is the person who flies a Cessna 172 on a business flight subject to the $100 fee because at that moment the 172 is a business aircraft? If a jet aircraft takes off from an airport where there is no control tower, flies entirely VFR outside controlled airspace, and lands at another airport without a tower will it be exempt from paying the fee because it did not use the ATC system? (Not a likely flight, but possible.)

Will each training flight in a jet or turboprop be subject to the fee? Will flight following by air traffic control be eliminated for piston aircraft even though it uses ATC services? Or, will that particular use of air traffic services be subject to the fee? Will aircraft owners be billed or, if a personally owned turboprop is loaned or rented to another to fly on a trip, who will be billed, the owner or pilot?

Who will collect the money? Will there be someone at each airport to collect upon landing?

Another major concern is that once a fee is in place, future administrations and legislators can increase it and expand it to include more aircraft and more activities. History of Washington politics makes this a major issue. The income tax started out at an extremely low rate imposed on only a few individuals. Social Security has expanded to include dozens more cases than its original intent of aiding elderly persons, creating the need to increase contributions or severely curtail amounts paid. Sales taxes continue to increase. Many products once exempt are now included and there is clamoring for more and higher percentages.

None of the answers to these questions, and others, has been set in writing or defined. Nor have any specifics be made available. One thing the current $100 fee proposal in the 2013 budget does show is the lack of understanding the White House and presidential advisors have for what general aviation is and does. The implication is that every jet or turboprop aircraft is some toy for business fat cats and every other general aviation flight is for “personal recreational” flying.

Opposition to the proposed fee by members of Congress and legislators who are in the General Aviation Caucuses in the Senate and House indicate that general aviation is better understood in some areas.

Although a few in general aviation might not be concerned about the fee proposals and how the subject is reported, those who toil in the Washington area are not relaxing their efforts. There is too much at stake.


Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.


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  1. Paul J. lewis says

    Paul J. Lewis
    P.O.Box 120
    Sandown,NH 03873
    Dear Gentlemen
    I am waiting to tell you about a problem that has bugged me
    For some time. I have always been interested in getting my pilot’s license
    Since I can remember. The cost has increased faster than my wallet. So as
    I just retired & have high hopes I can finely get it done.
    Now this is my message to you in General aviation. You have to
    Get some teenagers & young people involve in this industry or you will be
    Out of business in a very short time. When ever I here some young person
    Talk about this they always say it is for the rich. We have to change this, and
    This can be done in a couple of ways. One is to push back the over burden
    Regulation that gas strangled your industry. I do not remember the exact time this happened but it was about the light 80’s that the government said
    Your industry would be responsible for all light plains for 30 yrs. When this happened all manufactures of small planes cased producing small planes. After the government realized they killed a vibrant industry they said
    It would make it only 15 yrs. This tripled the price of the planes. Most of the
    Companies began producing these planes again. Then they did the same to Continual engines. I here they were recently sold to the Chinese. My idea is
    To start to fight back against these rules. Take a lesson from the NRA (I do
    Not know how you feel on guns), that is not the issue. The NRA after seeing
    More restive rules they fought back. One regulation at a time, & they have been wining. My suggestion is to first go the American people in some paper like USA. Get on fox news, Get every one in your industry talking publicly about this. Tel them what would a car cost if they were forced to be
    Responsible for a car for 15 yrs. No American would be able to afford a car but the very rich! Tell the people this is what happened here. Now people
    Are waking up to the rules & takes the government has burden the people
    And industry of this grate land of ours. The is never a better to do this. It is
    Now or never.
    Yours Truly
    Paul J. Lewis

  2. TEB says

    “The implication is that every jet or turboprop aircraft is some toy for
    business fat cats and every other general aviation flight is for
    “personal recreational” flying.”

    No – the implication is that every jet or turboprop is a multi-million dollar aircraft that is owned and operated by businesses or very very very wealthy people, either of which can easily afford to pay $100 per landing. Remember: $100 to these people is like $1 to you and me – it doesn’t even register on the scale of real money for them.

    It is not presumed that these aircraft are “toys” – it is presumed, correctly, that they are (somehow) always used for business flights that therefore, let’s not forget, have tax-deductible expenses.

    So landing fees on business jets is a perfectly legitimate way to collect taxes on those who use the ATC system extensively while deducting the cost of the flights from their federal and state income taxes, thus effectively burdening the finances  of the FAA even more.

    Case in point: “businessmen” regularly take along a colleague when they’re flying the family down to the Florida vacation home in their Socata TBM-700 so they can claim it as a business expense and deduct the cost from their taxes. The colleague flies back commercial the next day. This happens ALL THE TIME. Why should I subsidize this person’s vacation with my tax dollars?

    It is easy to see that the proposed landing fee can be applied to those cases, and only to those cases, by restricting it to turbines and turbo-props. It will not threaten the average GA pilot in his 172 taking the kids to Catalina for lunch and as such a pilot I have a real hard time getting worked about it.

    The only legitimate concern you can raise on this proposed “jet tax” is that it is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent and that future proposals will include landing fees on GA training, travel, and pleasure flights. This is the argument to take up with the politicians, not one whining about how millionaires are people too.

  3. Loo Moo says

    $100 fee is an amateurish proposal.
    It is just a random round number aimed at people we supposedly hate – “billionaires, making more than $200k/year”. As a plus this fee would reduce budget deficit.. by $7.4 billion in 10 years.

    Not counting expenses for collection and administration this proposal assumes that there would be around 20’000 flights a day subject to this fee. Isn’t this number a bit high?

  4. gbin says

    Mr. Spence, it’s no more appropriate for you to now mischaracterize my (and other like-minded individuals’) stance on this issue than it was for you to previously mischaracterize the issue itself.  I think it’s a great idea to be watchful on this matter, and to emphasize where greater clarity from the politicians is needed, too.  By all means raise all the questions you can think of pertaining to the language of the proposal, and what it does and doesn’t mean.  Just please don’t pretend in your reporting that 1) no piston aircraft exemption has been stated, 2) even if such an exemption has been stated, it must be meaningless because of course everyone knows that we can’t ever trust the government, or 3) we especially can’t trust the government while it’s being led by the Obama administration, as he’s out to get general aviation.  None of those is a part of HONEST reporting on this subject, and that’s the problem I have raised with some of the reports you and others have published here.

    • Frank R. Sandoval says

      The paradox and denial that Mr./Ms. Gbin is faced with is that, the proposed $100 fee has ramifications beyond the actual words of the proposal itself. Safety, economics, progress, education, research, development and the future of Aviation, are all at risk and the proposal makes this very assertion in what it does not say. The truth is, this bad idea is actually saying far more than what the wording might indicate. It places Aviation in general under an unjustified control and makes it dependant on a bureaucracy for its continued existence. The wording also places a control that extends to what we might even consider insignificant but, as you have pointed out, has a far deeper hidden domino effect. You have explained it in terms that explicitly reveal that which we may otherwise miss or the unsuspecting not catch. It is important to pay careful attention to detail with a passion, if we are to preserve Aviation. So, we must make certain that the T is crossed and the I’s are dotted. If we allow abstract rhetoric to misinform or undermine the objective and spirit of Aviation, then we should not be entitled to what it has to offer us.

      • gbin says

        Right, keep ignoring what I’ve actually been talking about in order to try to make me into some kind of a straw man for your arguments.  Talk about honesty is clearly wasted on you…

        • Frank R. Sandoval says

          Strawman? Wasted honesty? Receiving the presumptuos assurance of 195 members of the House, 25 members of the Senate, 100 Mayors, the great State of Alaska, Pilotman,  countless others on this blog, and those listed at, but not limited to, Richard Collins blog, and after discussing this issue with you for several weeks, you have solidified my conclusion that you consider yourself to be wise, but in fact, your downfall is that you have a penurious epistemology that tends to be myopic.

  5. Mitch Latting says

    Spot on Charles.  Everyone, please contact your Senator[s] and Congressional representatives with these concerns.  We have to speak up.

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