January 25, 2007 – Almost exactly one year after former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta brought up the idea of a user-fee based air traffic control system to the Aero Club of Washington, his successor brought the same flawed proposal to the same group. In response, EAA and the rest of the general aviation community maintain their message to the attempt of the nation?s airlines to offload expenses onto general aviation. During an Aero Club luncheon on Tuesday, current DOT Secretary Mary Peters repeated Mineta?s contention from Jan. 24, 2006, almost exactly, stating that a ?new funding mechanism? is needed that ?ties revenues to costs and allows us to manage FAA more efficiently.?
EAA President Tom Poberezny noted her words merited the same response. ?There is nothing new here. We and the rest of the general aviation community stand united against user fees, especially since FAA has still not shown effective cost controls or accountability for the capital improvement programs it wants to undertake.?
Poberezny added that the case against user fees is even stronger today than after Secretary Mineta?s speech a year ago. Among the stark evidence:
- The Aviation Trust Fund received record revenues the past two years and is scheduled to do so again in 2007. Passenger totals have risen to pre-9/11 levels, with more passengers squeezed into airplanes accounting for higher tax revenue with the same number of total flights;
- The federal government needs to take responsibility for a full 25-percent contribution to FAA?s general fund for operations, as originally intended by Congress, not a small backfilling that has caused funds to be taken out of the Aviation Trust Fund for FAA operations instead of being used for system improvements;
- User fees are a bad way to fund a new system, as projected collection costs would eat up much of the potential revenue, leaving only a more complex system with additional administrative overhead;
- The claim by the airlines and FAA that Very Light Jets (VLJs) would diminish airline ticket-tax revenue and overburden the air traffic system is false. VLJs have revolutionary benefits, but are still well above financial availability by regular business and personal travelers. They would largely operate at airports other than current overburdened hubs;
- The ?Next Generation? air traffic system currently proposed would significantly increase the cost of equipment, training and procedures for general aviation users, particularly those who are recreational aviators. Much of the new technology that would emerge from this plan would be for the benefit of the FAA and air carriers, while potentially depriving recreational aviation of large segments of the national airspace.
- FAA failed its accounting audit this year, indicating the agency still cannot identify an appropriate cost structure for services. Setting a user-fee system in place without accountability would be extremely negative for the GA community, leaving the door open to ever-heightening fees to cover runway costs;
- General aviation already pays its way through a fuel tax that places charges on GA pilots whether or not they ever use the services.
Other concerns include the disincentive for recreational aviators to use ATC and weather services with the associated adverse safety ramifications; the relatively low needs and usage of ATC services by GA pilots; and the possibility that airline ticket prices may not drop even if the tax is eliminated.
?A user-fee system was a bad idea a year ago, and it?s a bad idea today,? Poberezny said. ?It would decimate the GA community and fall short of any realistic revenue expectations. EAA cannot in any way support a measure that would destroy access to aviation by making it more costly and burdensome.?
Several congressional leaders have told EAA that they have more questions than answers regarding the user-fee proposals. EAA has joined with other general aviation organizations over the past year explaining the many flaws of the user-fee proposal to those in Congress and elsewhere in government. EAA has also carried that message to the general aviation community to reinforce the threat this user-fee plan presents.
Doug Macnair, EAA?s vice president of government relations, expects the campaign for user fees to intensify in advance of federal budget hearings opening next month.
?This is a coordinated effort on the part of the air carriers and the Administration to implement a user fee-based system of revenue generation that must be met with a coordinated effort in defense of general aviation,? Macnair said. ?It threatens to eliminate the freedom of the average American to enjoy flight.?