“Oh, what a tangle web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
To be honest, I have no idea if this line from Walter Scott’s poem “Marmion” is apropos to the proposed aircraft registration discussion currently taking place in Alaska. But it was the first thing that popped into my head after reading through the discussion’s background.
Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) seeks to create a new aircraft registration program.
Answers to the first question on an FAQ document from Alaska DOT sheds some light on the topic:
- There is an FAA requirement to provide annual updates indicating where aircraft are based within the state’s aviation system. Registering aircraft will enable DOT to fulfill this requirement.
- Knowledge of where aircraft are based will also support airport system planning and help prioritize maintenance and operations at state airports.
- The new database of based aircraft will be combined with the required state insurance compliance program. The database will also create a mechanism for reaching stakeholders as needs and issues arise in specific areas.
Not one of these reasons mentions funding airport needs.
The second question on the FAQ outlines fee structure and rationale.
The third item answers, “How will the money be used and how much is the fee expected to generate?” Answer: “The funds that are raised will be used to help fund the safety, security and system planning costs associated with the rural airport system. Alaska DOT anticipates $1.3 million to $1.5 million in funding from the aircraft registration program.”
“State DOT has once again proposed new regulations for a $150 aircraft registration fee for noncommercial aircraft and $250 for commercial aircraft. They are doing this to try and raise revenue as dictated by the legislators in Juneau,” states Adam White, head of the Alaska Airmen Association’s Government and Legislative Affairs.
You see, Alaska DOT operates and maintains 240 airports “at a cost of approximately $40 million.” Aviation fuel tax and leasing fees amount to “~$10 million” which requires a $30 million check from the state’s general fund.
So, a federal requirement (where are your aircraft based) leads to a new state program (aircraft registration for planning and insurance compliance), which creates an opportunity to create a new revenue stream (with associated costs of yet another program and support infrastructure).
And yet an Alaska Airmen Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) survey of Alaska pilots found “67% favored an increase in fuel taxes to generate more revenue, while only 20% favored an aircraft registration tax.”
It would seem a good many pilots understand the value of properly funding the airport infrastructure in Alaska.
But pushing through a tax increase at the state level requires action from elected leaders. And elected leaders typically like to get re-elected. And elected leaders find it harder to get re-elected if they raise taxes on some of their constituents.
Lots of states have aircraft registration programs. So Alaska DOT’s desire to stand one up isn’t novel, but the “why” feels a little contrived. Everyone points at something else, while no one stands up and takes ownership. In other words, status quo from our government.
I don’t believe Alaska DOT or the FAA is actively seeking to deceive, but they certainly seem to enjoy weaving a tangled web.