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Sat, Jan 12, 2008

AOPA: Senator Believes 'User Fees Are Dead'

Boyer Cautions Not To Pop Champagne Corks Just Yet

From his lips, to a higher power's ears. Florida Senator Bill Nelson had a succinct message for the over 400 pilots attending a recent AOPA Pilot Town Meeting. In his opinion, "user fees are dead," Nelson told the audience in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Nelson updated those in attendance with the latest news from the Senate floor... where S.1300, the Senate Commerce Committee's take on the FAA reauthorization bill, is still under debate. As ANN reported, in May 2006 the senator co-sponsored an amendment to the bill, with New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, to strip user fees from the legislation.

That amendment failed by a single vote... but Nelson told the crowd in Fort Lauderdale it "signaled that user fees are dead and it signaled that they are going to be out of the final FAA reauthorization bill. When this bill gets to the floor, I don’t expect that I'll have to offer the amendment again."

When the Senate returns to work January 22, Nelson added, among its top priorities will be reconciling S.1300 -- which includes a $25-per-leg fee for turbine-equipped aircraft that file IFR flight plans -- and a companion bill from the Finance Committee, S.2345. The latter does not include the trip fee.

The House of Representatives passed its version of FAA reauthorization, H.R. 2881, last September. That bill includes increases to the costs of pilot certificates, airworthiness certificates, and aircraft registrations, as well as to the per-gallon costs of avgas and jet-A. The House and Senate plans would have to be reconciled before a final bill is sent to the White House.

AOPA President Phil Boyer, himself no stranger to the political process, said he appreciates Nelson's optimism, but cautioned a lot of work still remains.

"While it's encouraging to hear Sen. Nelson's assessment, in politics it isn't over until the final vote," said Boyer. "The airlines haven't given up on user fees and more taxes on general aviation, and you can bet their lobbyists will be buttonholing senators as soon as they're back in Washington. AOPA will be working even harder on Capitol Hill, and when the timing is right, we'll be asking all of our members to weigh in with their senators."

As its last funding plan officially expired September 30 of last year, the FAA is currently funded through an extension of the agency's previous budget and aviation excise taxes until February 29.

AOPA is holding another Pilot Town Meeting on Saturday, at St. Augustine Airport (SGJ.)



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