NBAA’s Bolen Against User Fees
At a forum held this week to consider changes to the funding mechanism used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for providing air traffic services, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen challenged a panel of aviation industry officials who support user fees as a primary means of revenue generation for air traffic service providers. “As leaders in industry and government work to determine the best means of preparing our national air transportation system for the needs of the 21st Century, NBAA is pleased to be a part of forums like this one, which encourage a forthright dialogue about FAA costs, and effective approaches to addressing those costs,” Bolen began.
In recent weeks, some government and aviation industry officials have contended that the FAA is faced with declining trust fund balances, a reduced general fund contribution and increasing operational costs. These claims indicate a willingness for renewed consideration of general aviation user fees to address revenue shortfalls.
In his rebuttal to the user fee proponents on today’s panel, Bolen addressed concerns about FAA funding, and questioned whether consideration of user fees for general aviation is justified.
“First, let’s be clear on what a user fee is,” Bolen said. “It is a weight-and-distance-based means of charging those who utilize the air traffic system. I’m not sure that user fees will provide a better approximation for general aviation’s use of the system than that provided by the fuel tax. There is no simpler and more accurate way to distinguish between heavy and light users of the system than to measure the amount of fuel burned – small aircraft use less fuel and pay lower taxes; large aircraft use more fuel and pay higher taxes. Why would we want to discontinue using a mechanism that is so simple and accurate?
“Second, where they are in place, user fees bring with them the administrative costs required to support a large and expensive bureaucracy of collectors, administrators, auditors and accountants,” Bolen continued. “In the European Union alone, processing invoices can cost between $85 to $125 per invoice. Fuel taxes, by contrast, are directly remitted to the federal government, eliminating the need for a large bureaucracy to collect the taxes from hundreds of thousands of individual pilots and aircraft owners. Why would we want to set aside a system that costs so little to implement in favor of one that requires high administrative costs? “The bottom line is this: The US has the largest, safest, most diverse air traffic control system in the world. We would question whether it makes sense to scrap a system that has worked well for 35 years in order to replicate foreign models that have not proven as effective.”