User Fees And General Aviation?

No title The FAA says its main funding source, the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, is going broke and now is the time to start fixing it — and it appears at least part of the solution will be found in pilots’ wallets. Earlier this week, various industry groups, from pilots associations to airlines, began receiving a package from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that includes a survey of sorts into how they’d like to pay to operate the agency after the current trust fund’s mandate runs out in 2007. And make no mistake, the question is not whether the payments will be made, it’s how much and by whom. A summary of the package appeared in Tuesday’s Federal Register and says that user fees are a main focus of the discussion. “One major component of this work is an ongoing study that would allocate FAA’s air traffic control costs to users of the system,” the Federal Register document reads. The document says the trust fund balance is low and dropping and stable funding must be restored to keep the agency operating and to pay for new technology needed to cope with increasing demand. Fundamental to the new funding structure will be a link between the cost of the services provided and those who use the services. The FAA has spent much of the last year improving its cost accounting systems to provide the data it needs to get a handle on who pays for what.

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.

Source: AVWeb

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