Representing the general aviation community during a Senate aviation subcommittee hearing on FAA reauthorization on Thursday morning, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) president and CEO Ed Bolen urged lawmakers to immediately reject aviation user fees in any form, saying the proposal advocated by the airlines and FAA would be “disastrous” for the national aviation system and for businesses in rural area. During testimony, he maintained that the FAA’s user-fee proposal would overthrow a funding structure that has proven to be “stable, reliable and growing” for more than 25 years. Bolen pointed out several shortcomings in the FAA’s plan: a $600 million cut in FAA funding; allowing the FAA to go into deep debt, up to $5 billion, starting in 2013; and diversion of funds for ATC transformation to create a bureaucracy to assess and collect user fees. “Revenues going into the Airport and Airways Trust Fund are at record levels, and no less an authority than the Congressional Budget Office has said that the FAA will continue to have sufficient funds to fully support the transition to the Next Generation Air Traffic System,” he told the subcommittee. Bolen also reminded lawmakers that in 1997 the airlines advocated that user fees were needed to overhaul aviation system funding, which would have shifted some $600 million in costs and reduced the role of Congress in aviation system oversight. “To everyone who was around the last time the nation’s big airlines pushed that scheme, there is a strong sense of d?j? vu,” he said. “This time around, the airlines have picked a new target for their tax shift — general aviation — and they have increased the amount to $2 billion. The objective of reducing congressional control of the FAA remains unchanged.”
After about two years of posturing, the rubber hits the road for the FAA?s attempt to radically change the way it does business this week. On Wednesday, Administrator Marion Blakey will be in front of the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to defend the agency?s reauthorization proposal. That will be a warm-up for March 21, when she?ll be back in front of the committee promoting her vision of a user-pay system for air traffic control and other services and hefty fuel tax increases for general aviation. AOPA President Phil Boyer will testify at the March 21 hearing to fight the proposal, saying it?s unnecessary from a financial point of view and will seriously harm GA in the U.S. AOPA is pulling out the stops to maintain pressure against the funding changes. Last week it sent aviation reporters advance copies of a scathing assessment of the European user-fee system that will appear in the April edition of AOPA Pilot magazine. The advance look at the story is intended as background for coverage of the committee hearings. The article lists examples of various fees imposed on all levels of GA aircraft. It also chronicles a flight from England to Germany in a Twin Comanche that, despite some questionable maneuvers executed to avoid user fees, costs the aircraft owner $232 in fees and taxes alone. The story also speculates on the impact on training and currency since pilots pay user fees for each landing, including touch and goes.