User fee debate may run into next year or beyond

 - October 31, 2007, 10:04 AM

“In Washington, D.C., no bad idea ever dies,” National Association of State Aviation Officials president and CEO Henry Ogrodzinski said of aviation user fees late last month at the American Association of Airport Executives General Aviation Issues Conference in Naples, Fla. “Even if a good [FAA reauthorization] bill passes this time, user fees will still come up next time.”

And next time isn’t that far away, since the two FAA bills currently in play–H.R.2881 and S.1300–reauthorize the agency for four years, versus the traditional 10 years. However, passage of these bills is anything but assured since the House and Senate are no closer to consensus, and the extension that is keeping the FAA in business expires November 16.

“It’s likely that another extension will be passed,” noted AOPA v-p of airports Bill Dunn, “and if these extensions continue into March then we’ll have more extensions to keep the status quo until the new administration is in place in 2009.” But with these extensions, General Aviation Manufacturers Association vice president Brian Riley noted, “We’re getting away from the [user-fee] debate we want to happen.” He gives only a 50-50 chance that an FAA reauthorization bill will be passed this year, and a near-zero chance next year since it’s an election year.

Eric Byer, v-p of government and industry affairs for the National Air Transportation Association, dispensed a 50-50 prediction about whether the final Senate bill will contain the $25 turbine IFR user fee. S.1300’s co-sponsors, Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), have an agenda when it comes to the user-fee issue, he said, adding that Lott is a “very powerful Senator” who has much influence in Congress.

Byer noted that the House FAA bill contains language that would reopen air traffic controller contract negotiations, which the White House said is a nonstarter. Byer believes that removal of this provision alone would assure that the bill is not vetoed. And sans user fees, the House bill would need to be veto proof, association leaders say. Ogrodzinski noted, “The Bush Administration has fought so hard for user fees that it would, just out of principle, have to veto any bill without them.”