The Federal Aviation Administration disputes claims from Tri-City Aviation owner Don Carter that the FAA's reauthorization and finance reform legislation now before Congress will kill general aviation and impose user fees on all private planes.
Carter, who runs a fixed-base operation serving general and commercial aviation customers at Tri-Cities Regional Airport, made those claims at a recent called meeting of TCRA commissioners.
"Despite Mr. Carter's assertions, it is not true that the FAA's proposed reauthorization bill would impose user fees on private planes," Melanie Alvord, the FAA's assistant administrator for communications, wrote in an e-mail. "It is inaccurate to report (as Carter said) that ‘every private plane operator dealing with an air traffic control tower will have to set up a user fee account' and ‘every time you talk to them, you will get charged and get a bill at the end of the month.' It's simply not true.
"In developing our proposal, the FAA listened to the general aviation community, which indicated that it preferred to pay its share of costs through a fuel tax, as it currently does, and retained that as the funding mechanism for general aviation."
FAA's current aviation tax structure - which is largely dependent upon ticket taxes paid by airline passengers - expires at the end of September.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which advocates general aviation interests, says FAA's finance reform bill would raise general aviation gasoline taxes from 21.9 to 70.1 cents per gallon. AOPA also says it would allow the FAA to impose user fee charges on general aviation aircraft flying in "Class B" airspace - the airspace from the surface to 10,000 feet surrounding the nation's busiest airports.
"The United States has the largest, safest, most efficient air transportation system in the world - a system developed and funded by simple, efficient taxes on aviation fuel, passenger tickets and air cargo," says an AOPA position statement on FAA's finance reform measure. "Why impose a system that has proven expensive, unstable and inefficient in other parts of the world - places with smaller, less complex aviation transportation systems than our own? The existing system works, and there's enough money to fund modernization programs and maintain the aviation infrastructure without unfairly burdening pilots or sacrificing safety."
AOPA believes increased general aviation taxes and fees would hurt the U.S. economy because many smaller communities are only served by general aviation airports.
"Tell you what. If the FAA really wanted to kill (general aviation), as our critics claim, we'd just sit back and do nothing. We'd leave the air traffic system just the way it is and let congestion slowly squeeze them out," FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said in a speech delivered last Tuesday to the spring conference of American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and Airports Council International (ACI).
Blakey contends that delivering a cost-based funding structure is essential to the FAA's future, including development of its so-called "NextGen" - Next Generation Air Transportation System - to handle 1 billion passengers annually by 2015.
"Most of the general aviation burden (10 percent) would fall on business jets since they drive far more of our costs," Alvord explained. "Also worth noting is that even after the tax increase in our bill, gas taxes would account for less than 5 percent of the overall operating costs for the average general aviation pilot, roughly equivalent to the federal fuel tax burden from operating a car."
Blakey warned that if Congress fails to act on the FAA's proposal by September, airports will immediately feel the pinch. Airports like TCRA depend upon the FAA for federal grants to make airfield improvements.
"Foot-dragging on our bill will rob you of your ability to plan ahead," she told AAAE and ACI members. "I know how important that is to airports, big and small alike."
For more about the FAA's finance reform plan go to www.faa.gov. For more about the AOPA's position go to www. aopa.org/faafundingdebate.