User Fee Battle Starts Its Way Through Congress
Congressional step in the contentious user fee battle between general aviation
on one side and the airlines and the FAA on the other fell in favor of the
government and airlines when the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation approved a $25 'service fee' by the slim margin of one vote. As
approved, the fee would apply to all commercial and most turbine- and turboprop
powered general aviation flights.
discussion of the legislation, which will fund the FAA through 2011, the
committee narrowly defeated an amendment to strike the provision for that fee.
Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and John Sununu (R-NH) offered the amendment. It
lost by a 12 to 11 vote, with the deciding ballot coming from vice- chairman of
the committee, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).
surprised many in general aviation, expecting the Alaskan to support the
opposition. Stevens's proposal, however, secured exemptions for airmen in Alaska
and for certain airline operations in that state. He said in a written statement
that he is concerned that the legislation as originally drafted 'places an undue
burden on too many small carriers in rural parts of America, including Alaska.'
He stated he wants to further consider the impact the fee would have on
commercial and general aviation.
from the committee on transportation, the next step takes the bill to the
committee on finance, which has jurisdiction over excise and fuel taxes. At this
report, no date has been set for that committee to take up the issue.
On the other
side of the Capitol, the House has not released its proposals on the
legislation. It is expected that the no user fee approach will get a better
hearing here. Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chair of the Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee, has frequently declared his opposition to any kind of
Once the House
bill is introduced it will go through the same procedure as the Senate's version
and then both will go to conference where a final bill will be hammered out.
Time for this is short. FAA reauthorization must be completed before September
30. Congress is schedule for its summer recess August 6 to September 3. If
significant differences cannot be resolved before the present authorization
expires, it might be necessary to provide supplemental funding.
got a boost from the Government Accountability Office, which contradicted a
claim by the FAA that the trust fund would not finance, the next generation (NexGen)
air traffic control system. Questioned about this earlier this year by the House
Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, Dr. Gerald Dillingham responded with a
letter in May that the aviation trust fund structure can provide sufficient
funding for NexGen if current taxes remain in force and the federal government
continues to provide 19 percent of the FAA's budget. Dillingham is director of
GAO's Physical Infrastructure Issues.
getting more intense with general aviation groups calling on members to contact
key lawmakers and the Air Transport Association is getting more aggressive with
news story planting and an animated feature for television release and terminal
TV screens. These efforts have kept general aviation groups on the defensive.
president of the Air Transport Association and Phil Boyer, president of Aircraft
Owners and Pilots Association debated the issue at an Aero Club of Washington
luncheon. In the discussion, May declared 'I don't have any grief with Phil at
all,' adding that the airlines' beef is with corporate jets. This, however,
failed to placate Boyer who expresses concern that once any user fee is
established it is a 'slippery slope' for setting other fees as in other nations.