FAA no nearer to new plan for agency financing

 - September 12, 2006, 9:02 AM

Despite assurances from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that the agency was near a new financing plan, user-fee storm clouds continue to roil on the horizon without form or shape.

Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta acknowledged deep divisions within the Bush White House about how best to fund the FAA. He told reporters there is much “arm wrestling” over the question of user fees and to what extent they would apply to general aviation.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, is pushing a plan that would place a tax on the number of “departures” and “time in system.” The airlines would have the most influence among ATC stakeholders.

Mineta has opposed user fees for general aviation since his days as chairman of the National Civil Aviation Review Commission. That has led some observers to speculate that the move toward user fees might have been a factor in his resignation as DOT chief.

A strong supporter of general aviation since his congressional days, Mineta repeatedly said there would be no user fees for general aviation. But it was never clear whether he was referring to all of GA–including business jets–or piston-engine aircraft only.

The issue of user fees has come to the forefront because all of the taxes that go into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund expire on September 30 next year and the FAA wants to revamp its revenue stream. The agency has been talking to users since early last year about how to tie the cost of services to revenue, which many interpret as a user-fee system.

The airlines–through ticket taxes collected from their passengers–account for about half of the FAA’s annual budget. But they contend that they are paying 90 percent of the FAA’s cost while using airspace only 70 percent of the time. They further argue that business aviation does not pay its fair share.

Blakey had been saying through late spring that the new plan for financing the FAA had gone to the Office of Management and Budget for review, and would be released soon. Now Mineta has indicated that the funding plan is on a backburner and might not appear until early next year.