When AOPA President Phil Boyer has a chance to speak directly with a representative with the Air Transport Association — trade association for the nation’s airlines — about the hot-button topic of user fees… there’s gonna be some quotable comments. And such was the case Monday, when Boyer debated former FAA policy official Sharon Pinkerton — now an ATA employee — at the annual Air Traffic Control Association conference in Washington, DC. “Grandma in seat 28B should only have to pay her fair share,” said Pinkerton.
“Should grandma have to pay the true cost to get a first-class letter in Alaska, rather than 39 cents?” countered Boyer. “Should highway users in New York help pay for an interstate highway in Montana?”
The issue of what is “fair” when it comes to funding FAA services took the spotlight during the conversation… with Pinkerton repeating the argument that airlines “pay too much” for air traffic control. AOPA notes that statement almost echoes the FAA’s contention it needs a new funding system, one that ties revenue to costs.
(AOPA also observes it may be no small coincidence that Dan Elwell, Pinkerton’s replacement as the FAA’s top policy official, came from American Airlines… or that Megan Rosia, the FAA’s new chief lobbyist, is coming from Northwest Airlines. To quote a familiar movie, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” — Ed.)
Boyer countered that the air traffic control system is built to meet the peak demands of the airlines, and general aviation uses the excess capacity. For example, some airports have a control tower simply because two airline flights a day operate from the airport. Without those two flights, there would be no tower.
“It’s certainly not fair to impose a tower on us, then claim we’re not paying our fair share,” said Boyer. “Nor is it fair to build a huge tracon structure solely because of the demands of the airlines’ ‘push’ operations at a hub airport, and then try to apportion the tracon costs to the GA aircraft flying around the edges into the reliever airports.”
Boyer also countered the oft-repeated contention that the current aviation funding system -? fuel taxes on general aviation users, ticket taxes and segment fees on the airlines -? can’t fund the future air traffic control system.
“If we keep the same efficient and fair funding system we use today, and even if you assume that the FAA’s budget will grow faster than it has in the past, and that there is only a moderate increase in air travel, the aviation trust fund will still have a surplus in 2010,” Boyer said.
“There will be sufficient money to modernize ATC,” he said, also reminding the audience the modernization will most likely lead to cost savings.