Aviation–and in particular general aviation–dodged a financial bullet early last month when the Obama Administration released a Fiscal Year 2011 budget request that contained no new user fees for aviation.
That put the White House, which had been looking at more than $9 billion in new user fees to help make up its FY 2011 budget for the FAA and the NextGen ATC system modernization, in synch with a Congress that has consistently opposed any new aviation user fees.
But GA advocates are warning the industry not to become too complacent. “Bad ideas have a funny way of coming back around in Washington, so I have to believe that sooner or later this idea will surface again,” cautioned AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller. “In the meantime, the worst thing we can do is sit back, congratulate ourselves and imagine that all our worries are behind us.”
“Whether this is an indication of a permanent policy shift on user fees or a one-time development remains to be determined,” added NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “What we do know for certain is that our industry must continue to make its voice heard on this and other issues.”
“We support the Administration’s common-sense decision not to propose user fees,” said General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce. “A burdensome user-fee system faced widespread opposition in Congress and universal opposition from general aviation.”
James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, echoed Bolen’s and Fuller’s sentiment: “While NATA is pleased with the Obama Administration’s choice to omit a user fee proposal in the FY2011 budget, the industry must remain vigilant to ensure that any future user fee proposals are unsuccessful.”
Bolen noted that the Obama Administration’s previous budget proposal, which was introduced last February, contained an important provision that read, “Starting in 2011, the budget proposes to replace some aviation excise taxes with direct user charges.” The President’s new budget proposal does not contain similar language.
Congressional Opposition to User Fees
GAMA commended chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) and ranking member Tom Petri (R-Wis.) of the House aviation subcommittee for sending a letter opposing user fees to the Administration last fall, an initiative that was endorsed by more than 100 members, including chairman of the House Transportation Committee Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.).
An FAA reauthorization bill passed by the House last May contained no user fees.
The Senate has not yet enacted its version, but it has been reported that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has persuaded the Senate leadership to move ahead with legislation this month, in part because it contains aviation safety reforms that resulted from the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Senate bill has been bottled up for six months because of the health-care debate.
Obama’s budget request would provide $16.5 billion for the FAA, an increase of $275 million over FY2010 enacted levels. The proposal includes $1.14 billion for NextGen, a 32-percent increase from Fiscal Year 2010.
The White House budget recommends $9.793 billion for FAA operations for Fiscal Year 2011, up from $9.35 billion that Congress approved for FAA operations in FY2010. In addition, the Administration is requesting $3.515 billion from the Airport Improvement Program, the same amount that Congress approved for the program in Fiscal Year 2010.
The budget calls for $2.970 billion for FAA facilities and equipment, up from $2.936 billion last year, and $190 million for research, engineering and development, slightly less than the $190.5 million that Congress approved the previous fiscal year.
Despite the call for continuing vigilance, general aviation organizations were satisfied that user fees did not creep into the President’s budget plan.
“The general aviation community has worked diligently over the last several years with its supporters on Capitol Hill to ensure that any type of user fee proposal contained in the federal budget is essentially dead on arrival,” Coyne stated. “While general aviation user fees have been offered in previous budgets, Congress continues to oppose these unjustified and unnecessary budget proposals.”
Bolen noted, “Our industry has been united in opposing calls for user fees, which require a large bureaucracy to manage and would impose a hidden administrative burden on many small and midsize businesses that rely on an airplane to succeed.”
“We have waged a 12-month campaign since the moment we learned of a planned $9.6 billion fee,” said Fuller. “AOPA members stood strong against the proposal, and general aviation organizations worked together to prevent the realization of a policy that could have crippled GA.”