AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy said the document is of “grave concern” to the pilot group and could result in a nationwide mobilization of its 400,000 members to protest. “We’re working very hard on this issue. It is our number one issue,” Dancy said. AOPA has been vocally opposing any talk of user fees since before the agency first started talking about them in 2004. Dancy said that as a stakeholder, AOPA is glad that it is being given the chance for input but he also noted that the questions in the survey appear loaded in the direction of user fees as the funding solution. AOPA staff will make a formal submission on the document but Dancy said there are some fundamental arguments against user fees. AOPA maintains that the trust fund is viable but that too much of the FAA’s budget is dependent on it. “The entire U.S. population benefits from aviation,” Dancy said. It follows that everyone should pay to keep planes in the air. He said AOPA’s position is that at least 25 percent of FAA funding should come from general revenue. “The trust fund is only in trouble if you remove that funding,” he said.
FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the Federal Register document is a continuation of the process started with a forum held earlier this year in which stakeholder groups were asked to come up with alternative methods of funding the FAA. He said there’s a genuine desire on the part of the FAA to design a funding structure that has the support of stakeholders and, at this stage, all options, including user fees, must be open. “You can’t immediately start removing questions from the table,” he said. Dancy said one of AOPA’s concerns is that the process seems to be reaching an advanced stage quickly in a kind of political vacuum. Because the trust fund authorization doesn’t run out until 2007, the current Congress has no jurisdiction. The Congress formed after next year’s mid-term elections will have the responsibility. That means that groups like AOPA can’t go over the FAA’s head to Congress now to try and halt the process. “The fact that they’re making such a strong push [for user fees] so early causes serious concern,” Dancy said.