Battle Over User Fees Not Over

 - November 3, 2011, 1:55 PM
The user fee battle is back as the President has proposed a $100-per-flight fee for all turbine aircraft filing IFR.

General aviation user fees might not make it into any of the various tax proposals currently floating around Washington, but the concept is harder to kill than a zombie. It’s enough to make anyone want to reach for the antacids.

During last month’s NBAA Convention in Las Vegas, the “Stop User Fees” message was highlighted in signage and handouts, including Contact Congress pocket cards that feature QR (quick response) coding, which enables individuals to use the “Contact Congress” function of the NBAA Web site right from their smartphones.

NBAA is encouraging people to lend their voices to the user-fee battle as a follow-up to the recent joint declaration by the nation’s leading GA associations of their adamant opposition to President Obama’s proposed $100 charge for each GA flight. The President has suggested imposing the fee as part of his solution for reducing the nation’s deficit.

But the Obama Administration’s proposal has proved to be a tough sell in the Senate. In a jobs bill introduced October 6, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered alternatives, including dropping the $100-per-flight fee, replacing it with a 5.6-percent tax on millionaires. His plan also would keep 100-percent expensing of capital equipment (bonus depreciation) for another year.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) took to the floor to defend business aviation against “demonizing,” and to remind colleagues of the importance of GA to his state’s communities. In his floor remarks, he criticized the administration for “demonizing” legitimate business travel in its efforts to “change the way businesses can treat the depreciation of general aviation aircraft.”

Doing so, Begich said, would create “a disincentive to buy American-made aircraft, and further depress an industry that has felt the impacts of the recession.” GA keeps isolated Alaska communities connected and “is not a luxury,” he continued, noting that the state has six times more pilots and 16 times more aircraft per capita than the rest of the nation.

Besides NBAA and AOPA, the Aircraft Electronics Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, International Council of Air Shows, National Association of State Aviation Officials and National Air Transportation Association (NATA) have condemned user fees in a letter to President Obama.

In an interview before the NBAA Convention, association president and CEO Ed Bolen stressed that general aviation, and specifically business aviation, does not want foreign-style user fees or the bureaucracy that comes with them.

“So our hope over the course of the next several weeks and months in the legislative process, and with the new Super Committee, would be to have the opportunity to make our views known,” Bolen said.

Early last month, 134 members of the House of Representatives signed letters to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Super Committee”) and to House and Senate leadership expressing strong opposition to the Obama Administration’s $100-per-flight fee as part of its deficit-reduction package.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), co-chairs of the House General Aviation Caucus, authored a letter describing how detrimental user fees would be to the recovery and health of the GA industry.

“General aviation user fees have been proposed several times by different administrations, both Republican and Democrat,” the GA Caucus declared. And as NATA’s v-p of government and industry affairs Eric Byer recalled recently in a blog, it seems the GA community has been fighting the user fee battle for decades.

“The U.S. House of Representatives has repeatedly and overwhelmingly opposed them,” Graves and Barrow wrote. “Per-flight user fees have crippled the general aviation industry in other countries and we are concerned about the ramifications such fees would have in the U.S.”