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Fri, Jul 20, 2007

AOPA Tells Senators, 'Reject User Fees'

Association Calls On Finance Cmte. To Use Excise Taxes For Modernization

AOPA is NOT letting up on User Fee proponents as the misinformation campaign waged by the airline lobby continues to confuse legislators and travelers alike.

AOPA continues to point out the fact that, "There is no reason to impose user fees on the National Air Transportation System; aviation taxes should be used to pay for modernizing air traffic control." That is the core message that Phil Boyer, president of the AOPA, delivered to the Senate Finance Committee in a written statement prepared for Thursday’s hearing on FAA funding.

“There is no doubt that AOPA is committed to modernize the ATC system,” Boyer wrote. “The big question is how to pay the FAA an estimated $4.6 billion needed over the next five-years for NextGen (Next Generation Air Traffic Control System).”

General Aviation Pilots Fear For The Future

The two-year push by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airlines to shift to a user-fee funded system has created a great deal of pessimism among AOPA’s 412,000 members about the future of general aviation in the United States.

“The fear, based in large part from what has happened around the world, is that ultimately pilots will be priced out of the sky,” Boyer told the Senators. “AOPA members have seen that ATC user fees stymie general aviation around the world with huge costs to operate aircraft and, most importantly, insert cost considerations into critical safety decisions.

“Pilots in Europe's user fee system are continually faced with additional charges for use of the aviation system resulting in a decision between use of a safety service and the cost,” Boyer continued.

“For example in Germany, general aviation pilots face penalties when they are unable to complete a non-precision instrument approach at a general aviation airport as originally planned because of deteriorating weather conditions. The penalty, when combined with a landing fee, to fly a precision approach at an alternate air carrier airport could total $1,000. This is due to user fee pricing schemes and congestion management principals aimed at deterring general aviation pilots from using the services thus affecting safety,” he concluded.

Don’t Give The Airlines Yet Another Tax Break

Boyer’s testimony notes that the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization bill eliminates the only tax that the airlines themselves contribute to the aviation trust fund – the 4.3 cents/gallon fuel tax. That cut amounts to nearly $500 million dollars each year to an industry that has received $37 billion in tax breaks and bailouts in the past decade.

“General aviation is willing to help pay for air traffic control modernization, but we are not willing to pay for a tax cut for the airlines,” said Boyer’s testimony.  “How can an airline tax break even be considered if there is need for more money to modernize the system?”

Keep Air Traffic Control Modernization In Perspective

This summer, the FAA and the airlines have attempted to turn lemons into lemonade by blaming their delay problems on the “antiquated” air traffic control system and on general aviation – specifically business jets.

But Boyer noted in his testimony that modernization is not the cure-all that the airlines and the FAA are claiming.

“They assert that modernization will immediately eliminate or dramatically reduce delays,” he wrote.  “This is not true.  The FAA reports the single most prevalent cause of delays is weather.  And, no amount of modernization is ever going to make it safe for an aircraft to fly through a thunderstorm.  Weather delays are compounded by the airlines’ practice of scheduling more aircraft onto a runway than the runway can handle in a given period of time.”

Boyer noted that while incorporating new technology will improve the air traffic control system, doing so will take time and will not be an immediate solution to problem of congestion and delays.  “In reality, there is a limit to the amount of improvement and capacity modernization brings,” he wrote.

And despite airline claims to the contrary, general aviation is not a major cause of delays. General aviation accounts for only four percent of operations at the top ten major hubs.  In fact, based on operation counts from the FAA’s New York Approach Control (N90), general aviation operations are down by 9 percent since 2002.  At the New York area airports general aviation is down as well.  And it is important to note that airline ground holds in New York also apply to instrument operations from nearby Teterboro as well.

Taxes – Not Fees

Boyer’s statement urges the committee members to rely on taxes, not user fees, to fund both day-to-day operations at the FAA and modernization of the air traffic control system.

“While I know that the Finance Committee does not have jurisdiction over the $25 air traffic control modernization surcharge (‘user fee’) included in S. 1300, we urge your action to provide the aviation taxes necessary to fund the aviation system, eliminating the need for the $25 fee,” he wrote.

“Then, we can all get on with the real issues at hand through a productive, meaningful discussion on how to strengthen the nation’s airports and modernize air traffic control – the plan, design, implementation – that enables the U.S. to continue its global aviation leadership position.”

FMI: www.aopa.org

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