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The Fight Continues: GA User Fees and the FAA Funding Bills

June 12, 2008 — Funding for the FAA will expire on June 30 unless Congress takes action to extend the agency’s current budget authorization—already on a 9-month extension. The House of Representatives passed a new FAA budget bill (H.R.2881) in September 2007, but the Senate’s version of the bill (S.B.1300) was stalled over general aviation user fees.

In late April, general aviation user fees were dropped from S.B.1300, thanks in part to ongoing protests from EAA members and the general aviation community that helped remove a $25-per-trip ATC user fee on turboprops and jets. But S.B.1300 is stalled again over labor issues and other provisions unrelated to user fees.

H.R.2881 does not include general aviation user fees. Both bills do include a sharp increase in aviation fuel taxes on business aircraft, intended to help pay for ATC modernization.

“General aviation user fees are currently off the table,” said Doug Macnair, EAA vice president of government relations. “But that victory is not secure. The airline industry and the administration continue to push for ATC user fees on general aviation aircraft. And the president has said he will veto any FAA funding bill that doesn’t include GA user fees.”

With the FAA budget bill stalled in the Senate, Congress will have to extend the FAA’s current funding again, possibly into 2009, Macnair said. Until Congress passes a new FAA funding bill, all kinds of FAA projects and programs are on hold, including much-needed ATC modernization.

Meanwhile, the airline industry continues to attack general aviation for its alleged failure to “pay its fair share.” A “policy brief” issued by the Air Transportation Association (ATA), the airlines’ lobbying arm, claims that “a Cessna Citation X corporate jet aircraft would contribute an estimated $306 to the Trust Fund” - presumably in aviation fuel taxes - “when it flies from New York to Los Angeles. An airline’s Boeing 757-200 aircraft flying the same route would contribute an estimated $2,660 to the Trust Fund.” Both planes, the policy brief alleges, make comparable demands on the ATC system but the Cessna’s “payment for ATC services” is far less, the ATA claims.

The airline industry’s argument ignores some important facts:

  • The Aviation Trust Fund pays for far more than just ATC costs. It funds many kinds of infrastructure, including airports, runways, and related structures and systems. The airlines make far greater demands than general aviation on the total infrastructure.
  • The Aviation Trust Fund also pays a large portion of the FAA’s operating costs, which are driven substantially by the airline industry and its regulatory needs.
  • Both H.R.2881 and S.B.1300 include substantial increases in fuel taxes on corporate aircraft and increases in fees for aircraft registration, pilot certificates, and other transactions.
  • The FAA’s current funding system already provides enough money to pay for ATC modernization and other needed FAA programs and projects.

“General aviation pays its fair share,” said Macnair. “EAA will continue to fight hard against user fees and to encourage Congress to pass a sensible FAA funding bill.”

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