General aviation user fees are “the most misunderstood issue” currently before Congress, declared Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) during an interview at AirVenture 2007.
Inhofe, GA’s greatest friend in the U.S. Senate, also spoke to a large crowd, curious about the status of the user fees debate, at the EAA Member Village. Long a member of AOPA and EAA, Inhofe currently is the only active pilot in the Senate where, only a few years ago, he was one of 11.
Inhofe termed the current Senate proposal for FAA reauthorization – S.1300 – “a sweetheart deal for the airlines.” On the other hand, the proposed House bill, significantly different, is a good one, he said after explaining the differences. The major difference is that the House proposal specifically rules out user fees. “If you want to kill the fees, support the House bill,” he told his audience.
Senators Trent Lott (R-Miss) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) “voted wrongly,” in favor of the Senate bill, Inhofe said, declaring that “the bad guy in this is Rockefeller.” Both of those senators side with the airlines and FAA, he said. They insist that user fees are necessary for “fairness” and to fund the Next Generation Air Transportation System, despite Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office evaluations showing current FAA funding methods to be far more than adequate for funding NextGen.
“This is the third time in my congressional career that a user fee system has been proposed to ‘fix’ our aviation infrastructure,” Inhofe said. “Each time I’ve opposed it strongly and I will do so again.” In 1991, Inhofe flew a Cessna 414 around the world, following the track of Wiley Post’s pioneering flight 60 years earlier. “From that experience I can assure you that our system is second to none and is not broken. Congress is being asked to dismantle the time-tested aviation financing system for reasons that are not valid.”
While Inhofe, like most GA pilots, supports improvement of the air traffic control system, “I fail to understand how the proposed user fee system will achieve that important goal.” Indeed, he pointed out, the CBO and GAO reports say that “the administration’s proposal will result in less money, not more, for aviation.”
In fact, those studies showed that entirely removing corporate aviation from the system would lower ATC costs by only 15%. The conclusion of those studies was that 85% of airport and airways costs are attributable directly to the commercial airlines, providing strong support to Inhofe’s argument.
Directly addressing the positions held by Lott and Rockefeller, Inhofe commented: “While some eagerly point to general aviation as not paying its fair share, an even-handed examination of the facts demonstrates this is not true.
“Any change to the current system needs to encourage and maintain general aviation, not destroy it by imposing unreasonable and unfair taxes on it,” he emphasized.
Inhofe estimated that the controversial Senate bill won’t come to a vote before late September, and urged those opposing it not to contact their senators “until the time is right.” Otherwise, he said, his colleagues will have forgotten such contacts by the time of the actual vote. “That would just tip off senators (who favor user fees) that opposition is being mounted,” he warned.
Inhofe told the gathering that he will introduce an amendment to the Senate bill before that vote comes, but he wouldn’t even hint at what the amendment might contain. He urged his listeners to wait until AOPA and EAA notify their members that the vote is coming, and then to call or write to their senators asking them to “support the Inhofe amendment.”