Analysis: User Fees- Déjà Vu All Over Again?

    March 9, 2009 — The U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee last week approved the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 915), a funding bill that does not contemplate new user fees for general aviation.

    Nonetheless, affordable participation in personal flight is once again in peril, as proponents of user fees present their case not only to a new Congress but also to a new administration, where they’ve evidently made some traction. The EAA community will have to rally once again to quash attempts to strap general aviation with a disproportionately heavy burden to pay for management of our nation’s airspace.

    In another testament to the often cyclical nature of lawmaking, the current status of the user fees issue bears an uncanny resemblance to where it was in the spring and summer of 2007. Now, like then, the T&I Committee has passed an FAA budget-reauthorization act without user fees, the Senate counterparts haven’t yet committed, and the administration has proposed a budget that would include user fees.

    The House Ways and Means Committee will consider the bill next. Committee officials indicate that they will wait for the detailed version of the President’s budget proposal, anticipated for release in mid-April, before acting on the T&I Committee’s recommendations.

    In 2007, Ways and Means accepted a budget-reauthorization package that would have continued the use of aviation excise taxes to fund the FAA, the nation’s air traffic control system, and national airspace modernization initiatives. This bill passed the House, but efforts on a companion bill in the Senate ultimately stalled in 2008, leaving FAA funding to continue via an extension through the end of this month.

    Throughout the period of debate on the previous House and Senate proposals, EAA members by the thousands expressed their opposition to user fees. They believed then, as they still do today, that user fees instituted for any segment of general aviation would eventually metastasize to affect all participants. The bureaucracy of a new revenue-collection system would not only have to collect funds for operations and modernization projects, but also have to pay for itself.

    The EAA community and other general-aviation groups protested that user fees would shift a disproportionately larger revenue-collection burden on general-aviation operators, a conclusion evidenced by the major airlines’ fervent advocacy of user fees.

    The next steps entail attempting to make inroads with the administration. The goal is to get the “direct user charges” out of the President’s proposed budget before it gets published this spring.

    All EAAers, 160,000 strong, should stand ready to rally behind this cause as they did two years ago. Accordingly, EAA is ramping up its opposition in partnership with the rest of the general aviation community.



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