FAA reauthorization still stalled

 - March 31, 2008, 6:38 AM

With movement toward a long-term FAA reauthorization bill at a standstill, entities as diverse as the Portland Cement Association, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined with aviation interests last month in urging the Senate into action.

Thirty-five organizations signed a letter to members of the Senate, which has bottled up the legislation for months over a dispute about user fees. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, blames GA for the Senate’s delay in passing an FAA funding bill. He refuses to budge on a demand that a $25-per-flight fee be levied on all jet and most turboprop aircraft operations.

There will not be an FAA funding bill this year “based on the GA community’s inability to compromise,” Rockefeller said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in February. “I blame it on them because we can’t work it out.” But Kansas’ two Republican senators disagree.

“To say that general aviation’s rejection of user fees is what’s stalling the process is not constructive and [it is] misleading,” said Sen. Sam Brownback. “While the general aviation community is opposed to new taxes such as Senator Rockefeller’s proposed user fees, they have shown that they are ready to pay their fair share for upgrading our nation’s air traffic control system by supporting a 65-percent increase in their jet fuel taxes.”

Sen. Pat Roberts said, “Senator Rockefeller’s statements are egregious, counterproductive and at odds with the majority of the Senate Finance Committee and the House of Representatives.” The House passed its version of FAA reauthorization in September, and it does not include the $25 fee or any other new user fees.

The current FAA reauthorization expires on June 30.

Funding Stream Remains a Concern
The letter asked the Senate to “recognize the importance of advancing multi-year FAA reauthorization legislation and make it a priority in 2008, especially considering how important the aviation industry is to our economy.”

Rockefeller remains adamant about the $25 fee, saying it is necessary to pay for modernization of the ATC system. He also contends that GA is not paying its fair share of the costs of operating the system.

Several of his colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee take issue with that. To say that general aviation killed the FAA funding bill for the year is “a bit of an unfair statement,” said Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.). He noted that GA has supported bills that “bring us to a much more equitable and proportionate sharing of the costs” of the ATC system.

Sununu said that he and other members of the Commerce Committee opposed the $25 user fee because it would have significant administrative costs and be difficult to oversee.

“We have a system in place for collecting revenues to support this modernization and that is an aviation fuel tax,” Sununu said. “And the proposals put in place…significantly increase fuel taxes in general aviation.” He said the Finance Committee’s tax bill (S.2345) and the House FAA funding bill (H.R.2881) accomplished the goals of raising enough money for ATC modernization and more equitably distributing costs among different classes of user without imposing user fees.