Airlines Continue User-fee Plea

 - September 26, 2006, 8:14 AM

In a state-of-the-industry press release last month, the Air Transport Association (ATA) again called for a change in the way the FAA does business. The association said that restructuring the air traffic system is a critical first step for the airline industry to return to financial health.

But the ATA admitted that industry fundamentals finally have improved to the point that if fuel prices moderate, the airlines could be seeing “record profitability” rather than multibillion-dollar losses.

“Returning to financial health is first the airlines’ responsibility,” said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist of the ATA, “and they continue to do a yeoman’s job of getting there. But there is only so much cleaning that can be done in your own house.”

He said the government could help by lessening some of the burdens it imposes upon the industry, and he called restructuring the air traffic system a critical first step. “Today, airlines constitute about two-thirds of FAA-controlled flights but pay more than 90 percent of the bill,” he argued. “In return, airlines and their customers too often take unnecessary delays or consume more fuel, crew time and other resources than they should this far into the 21st century while non-airline users of the system, growing at a healthy clip, use more and more system capacity.”

Heimlich acknowledged that the airlines should cover the costs they impose on the ATC system but said they should not be expected to subsidize the competition. “Current FAA leadership is committed to turning things around,” he said, “but much work remains to be done in transitioning to the future air traffic management system and determining how it is to be funded.”