Are User Fees An Option?
In recent months, there's been no
question that the FAA is seeking changes to the way it's funded.
All this is counting down to October 2007, when Congress will
— hopefully before the current system expires — make
the final decision on whether aviation taxes and the trust fund
continue or there is a switch to an alternative means of collecting
money for the FAA.
Earlier this week, the FAA, through the Federal Register, asked
for public input on a "new financing structure" for the agency.
From the summary, it's pretty easy to see the FAA's and the Bush
administration's preferred course of action: "The new financing
structure should generate stable and predictable revenue," said the
FAA. "The funding mechanism chosen should tie revenues raised for
the system to the infrastructure and operational costs of the
The agency noted that it is "examining the contributions of
various stakeholder groups to the Trust Fund under the current tax
structure," and that it has an ongoing study that would "allocate
FAA's air traffic control costs to users of the system."
And it's not just air traffic control operations being
apportioned among the users.
"In addition, the FAA's Safety and Airports organizations have
identified areas where services can be matched to the revenue
needed for those programs," the agency said.
The Federal Register summary lists seven question areas,
including "other funding alternatives for cost recovery of ATC
services and cost allocation" and "lessons learned from other
countries." The "other countries" listed in FAA's documentation are
all user fee-funded systems. [E-I-C Note: This is called "stacking
"Some of the ideas they're exploring
right now would have a profound and fundamental economic impact on
our ability to continue using general aviation for personal
transportation and recreation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
Last week AOPA and a select few major aviation stakeholders
(airlines, corporate aviation, and airports) also received a
100-page document with questions, data, charts, and appendices
seeking "stakeholder input in order to fully consider principles
such as marginal system use, use of congested airspace and scarce
resources, aircraft weight, distance, and other criteria."
In a letter to AOPA President Phil Boyer, FAA Administrator
Marion Blakey stated that "the new financing structure should
generate stable and predictable revenue...." While that statement
is open to some interpretation, it could certainly point to a
radically different approach to funding the FAA.
And one key option could be user fees.
"This issue has the highest priority within AOPA. If the FAA
does, in fact, have user fees in mind as a way to fund itself, rest
assured we will devote all of our staff and resources to opposing
it," said Boyer. "And when the time comes, we will be calling on
our members to get involved with Congress as well.
"The current FAA funding system is
not broken," Boyer continued.
"Aviation excise taxes are the fairest, most efficient way to
pay for the continued modernization and operation of our aviation
infrastructure. And as I testified before Congress last May, the
trust fund will not run out of money if we don't change the
Boyer also reiterated that, because the general citizenry
benefits from the aviation system, it is appropriate and fair that
the general fund continue to pay for approximately one quarter of
the FAA's expenses.
He also said that for something as critical as aviation, it's
important that Congress retain oversight and control of the
Another idea the FAA is considering is releasing airports from
their current grant assurances to keep the airport open in exchange
for forgoing future federal grants. Also under discussion is having
airports "purchase" FAA air traffic control services and then work
with the users to "match services with user needs."
"The FAA is clearly considering a fundamental change in both the
philosophy and mechanisms of allocating and paying for their costs
of doing business," said Boyer. "Those decisions will have a
profound impact on aviation's future and the availability of
general aviation to most citizens.
"Our responses to the data and questions that FAA has spent
months, if not years, developing, will be considered and