The fight over how to fund the FAA is, in reality, an argument about who will control the national air transportation system, stated AOPA President Phil Boyer during a debate late last month with James May, the Air Transport Association’s chief lobbyist.
During the debate, held at the Aero Club of Washington, Boyer laid out general aviation’s fundamental opposition to FAA funding based on a user fee system: elected officials in Congress control the purse strings when tax dollars are used, but unelected appointees get to say how user fees are spent.Boyer gave a withering assessment of the three FAA reauthorization fights he’s been through. Each time FAA funding legislation comes up for renewal, he said, the airlines try for “a giant tax cut for themselves and more control over the world’s safest and most efficient air traffic control system.”This time, he said, “the airlines have manufactured every crisis they can think of to put the ill on general aviation,” Boyer told the high-powered audience of congressional staff members, FAA officials and national news media although, he said, general aviation and the airlines are very close on some issues, such as modernization of the Air Traffic Control system.”Our fundamental concern is the introduction of a user fee for any segment of aviation,” Boyer said, referring specifically to the Senate’s FAA funding bill. “Even if it were just the airlines (paying user fees), to put that structure in place would be a slippery slope. As we’ve seen around the world, these fees always trickle down to general aviation, with devastating economic results.”
May was willing to drop user fees for GA but continued to insist that corporate aviation doesn’t pay enough. Piston GA is exempt from user fees under current proposals, but May said, “My beef is with the corporate jets. I’m just trying to find a little balance from some folks who can easily afford to pay their fair share.”
Boyer made it clear that general aviation remains united as never before against any fee-based funding system. “An assault against any segment is an assault against the entire industry,” he stated.Attacking the “paying a fair share” argument, Boyer pointed out that if that was the only criterion for funding a transportation system, only 15 states would have interstate and federal highways. Federal roads in all the other states are “subsidized” by drivers in those 15 states, he said.
“We have the best air transportation system in the world,” Boyer concluded. “Let’s consider very carefully before we muck up a funding system that has served us so well.”
Meanwhile, back in Congress…
During several days of user-fee debate in the Senate, fees first were purged from a new version of the FAA funding bill and then, a day later, restored.
Although the no-user-fees amendment ultimately was defeated – by just one vote in the Senate Commerce Committee – NBAA’s Ed Bolen is telling us that the Senate Finance Committee, next to get its hands on the bill, can consider any options it chooses, regardless of the Commerce Committee vote.
No hearings had been scheduled by the Finance Committee as of this issue’s press date, nor had committee leaders so much as hinted at their views on user fees.
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