User Fees – Senator Stevens Votes Okay For Us but Not Alaska

One week after casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of legislation to tack a proposed $25 per flight surcharge on general aviation aircraft throughout the United States, Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was hard at work trying to get Alaskan pilots exempted from the charge, according to his staff. Stevens, vice chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, tucked a fee exemption for some Alaskan pilots in the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007 that was approved May 17.

“I am concerned that this legislation as originally drafted places an undue burden on too many small carriers in rural parts of America, including Alaska,” said Stevens. “Changes to any portion of the aviation industry will have a tremendous impact on our state. This provision will exempt many of Alaska’s aviators and will especially help our rural communities that rely so heavily on aviation as a basic means of transportation and commerce.”

As ANN reported, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association noted Stevens cast the tie-breaking vote with hesitation. Referring to the effect of user fees on aircraft flying in Alaska, Stevens said he thought there was “a bit of unfairness” in the bill, but he wanted to send it to the Senate floor.

The Alaska Airmen’s Association gave the Senate a copy of a petition signed by 1,700 pilots and group members opposing the Senate bill, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce. What, if any, impact this will have remains to be seen.

Such user fees are opposed by GA organizations such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the National Business Aviation Association. The Alliance for Aviation Across America — a “catch-all” coalition of groups opposed to user fees, including representatives from smaller communities in the lower 48 states — formed in April to present a united front of protest to the FAA’s funding scheme.

Although the Senate funding plan would do away with many of the fees to be imposed on pilots of smaller aircraft, the groups remained opposed to ALL user fees — saying just one fee leaves the door open for more down the line. Also of concern is that Congress would lose much of its current oversight authority of the FAA under the funding plan.

Alaskan business owners are worried about the impact new fees would have on their businesses, as well. Many rely on small aircraft to travel throughout “The Last Frontier.”

“We’re aware that language is being considered in the bill that would address how the $25 ATC modernization fee would be applied for flights within the state of Alaska and have no objections to this language,” said Joe Sprague with Alaska Airlines, a member of the Airline Transport Association which has thrown its support behind the FAA reauthorization legislation.

Stevens staffers say this bill will inevitably be changed by other committees as it makes its way to the House… and this issue is by no means cast in stone.

FMI: www.alaskaairmen.com, www.aopa.org, www.faa.gov

Editor’s Note: Talk about the two faces of politics! Senator Stevens should be ashamed of his conduct.

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