Business owner: Tax shift 'will kill' general aviation at TCRA

Hank Hayes • Mar 21, 2007 at 12:51 PM

BLOUNTVILLE - Proposals to shift the aviation tax burden from airline passengers to the private aircraft industry "will kill" general aviation at Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Tri-City Aviation owner Don Carter warned airport commissioners Tuesday.

Carter spoke out during a called Airport Commission meeting against the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed reauthorization and $14 billion budget, which calls for imposing user fees on private planes and a fuel tax on general aviation operations beginning in 2009.

The FAA's current tax structure - which is largely dependent upon ticket taxes paid by airline passengers - expires at the end of September.

"As it stands, there is no link between FAA's budget and the actual cost to provide service," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey wrote in a briefing paper about the need for the new fees. "Since 2000, low-cost carriers and other factors have changed the business of aviation. The airlines also are favoring smaller jets. ... Even general aviation activity is increasing and shifting toward high-performance jet aircraft, which increases FAA workload and without a commensurate increase in revenue. The bottom line is that there is no connection between revenue and workload."

TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson said aviation interest groups are lining up for and against the FAA's plan.

"There's a fight basically between the Air Transport Association that represents the airlines. ... The airlines typically pay the majority of the improvements and operations for air traffic through the ticket tax program, and the airlines feel like they've paid a larger percentage of that than they should, so they've made a push to push some user fees on general aviation, and the general aviation side is fighting that battle, too," Wilson said. "It's a significant year politically. The whole (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (which funds airfield improvements at TCRA) is up for reauthorization."

The FAA says the budget request will enable development of its modernization programs, including its "NextGen" - Next Generation Air Transportation System. FAA forecasts indicate the air transportation system will be handling one billion passengers annually by 2015.

Carter said that under the FAA plan, every private plane operator dealing with an air traffic control tower will have to set up a user fee account with the agency.

"And every time you talk to them, you will get charged and get a bill at the end of the month," Carter said. "The more general aviation they can get out, the more airline slots they will get."

Carter added that last weekend, NASCAR race teams using private planes were advised to avoid using Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport because FAA inspectors were there to check registrations and other documents. That activity caused delays, he said.

This weekend at TCRA, airport officials estimate there will be close to 300 private aircraft parked on the airfield for race activities at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"There are aircraft that land, drop people off and fly back out, then come back in and pick people up after the race," Wilson said. "Over the weekend, there will probably be 2,000 operations handled by the air traffic control tower here."

For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.

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