WASHINGTON, D.C. — Passage by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the FAA Reauthorization legislation — without user fees — brought some level of relief to the general aviation community, but also a warning that user fee opponents cannot let their guards down.
Introducing the bill, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said projected growth of the aviation trust fund shows “”radical financing reform is not necessary.”” Some financial changes are included in the bill, however. The tax on general aviation gasoline goes from 13.3 cents a gallon to 24.1 cents; jet fuel increases from 21.8 cents a gallon to 30.7 cents. The bill also increases charges for FAA services, such as aircraft registration — from $5 to $130 — and changing N numbers. The increases, according to Oberstar, are to keep up with inflation.
The House version authorizes $13 billion for FAA facilities and equipment to handle the new air traffic control program, commonly called “”Next Gen”” for next generation. This is more than $1 billion beyond what the administration requested. Another $15.8 billion is earmarked for airports, $4 billion more than what was asked.
The heads of general aviation groups quickly praised the bill and lauded the committee members who produced it.
“”Over all NATA is pleased with the legislation,”” said James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association.
“”This is a positive step in our efforts to prevent establishment of a user fee system,”” added Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, declared “”the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and aviation subcommittee refused to be bullied by the airlines to accept the FAA’s claims of poverty.””
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) also commended aviation policymakers in the House. “”They have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to strengthening the nation’s aviation system with legislation that builds on a proven funding mechanism rather than a foreign-style user-fee,”” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO.
With each praise came a warning. The bill must first be cleared by the House Ways and Means Committee and then by the full membership. The bill, with whatever changes might be made, must then go to conference with the Senate, which has included a $25 user fee for aircraft operating above 12,500 feet. The House version says the FAA cannot use altitude as a means of establishing charges.
A section of the legislation received high praise from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The bill includes language that would send the FAA and NATCA back to the bargaining table to work out a collective bargaining agreement.
This item could be “”a poison pill”” to the legislation, according to Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the aviation subcommittee. He said reopening the 1998 NATCA contract would cost “”hundreds of millions of dollars.”” Reinstating the terms of the contract, he added, would cost nearly $400 million for 2007 and 2008.
Mica said he has every indication from President Bush and his advisors that a bill with that item in it would be vetoed by the president — and Mica believes the House would sustain that veto.
As these next actions are to be taken, both sides in the user fee struggle are ratcheting up the pressures on key members of Congress.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.