When the Senate passed an FAA reauthorization bill in late March, the general aviation community breathed a little easier. Like the companion legislation already passed in the House, it did not contain any user fees for GA.
But the two-and-half-year slog is not over yet, because a conference committee has yet to iron out the differences between the two measures. The goal is to have a conference completed on the final bill before the July 4 recess.
In addition to the lack of user fees for general aviation, the Senate “FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act” establishes clear deadlines for the adoption of existing NextGen navigation and surveillance technology and accelerates planned timelines for integrating ADS-B into the National Airspace System (NAS). The bill requires the development of RNP and Rnav procedures at the 35 busiest airports by 2014 and for the entire NAS by 2018.
As a result of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 last year near Buffalo, N.Y., the Senate bill contains provisions for more stringent training for commercial airline pilots, increasing the right-seat minimum hours from 250 to 800. It also mandates all carriers adopt Aviation Safety Action Programs, Flight Operational Quality Assurance programs and Line Operations Safety Audit programs.
General aviation organizations applauded the Senate bill, which was passed 93 to 0. In lieu of user fees, it increases the fuel tax on general aviation fuel from 21.9 cents per gallon to 35.9 cents per gallon. It also repeals a provision that was instituted in the 2005 highway bill that increased the tax rate on aviation fuel from 21.9 cents per gallon to 24.4 cents per gallon to eliminate fuel fraud.
The GA community has long held that it contributes its fair share to the national air transportation system through fuel taxes, allowing users to pay “at the pump.” Because this setup directly transfers tax revenues from the user to the government, it is highly efficient and does not require a large bureaucracy for collection.
Since the inception of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund in 1970, general aviation has paid separate taxes on jet fuel and aviation gasoline as its share of FAA funding. When the Senate passed a bill to fund the FAA and continue transformation to a NextGen ATC, it followed the lead of the House by not instituting user fees.