When President Obama signed the four-year FAA reauthorization bill on February 14, he put an end to more than four years of foot-dragging and often contentious debate, along with a record 23 short-term extensions of the FAA’s operating authorization and ability to levy and collect aviation excise taxes, since the last four-year reauthorization expired in the fall of 2007.
The legislation authorizes $63.3 billion for FAA programs through 2015, while retaining–at current levels–fuel taxes as the means for general aviation to pay for its use of the aviation system. The new bill contains no new user fees, but that does not mean that GA is out of the woods for those four years.
The Obama Administration nevertheless has renewed its call for a $100 user fee for turbine flights in “controlled” airspace. While members of Congress are already declaring the proposal “dead on arrival,” it was included in the White House’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget of $3.8 trillion, released February 9.
During a two-week gap in short-term extensions last summer, the FAA was legally unable to collect excise taxes. It ended up losing about $300 million in revenue, which forced it to furlough about 4,000 “non-essential” employees and shutter hundreds of airport construction projects.
Fears of Snowballing Fees
Although only Congress has the power to levy taxes, the $100-per-flight user fee has general aviation organizations and businesses concerned. “Proposals from the White House are serious business, particularly if–like the user-fee plan and the proposal to change aircraft depreciation in the President’s annual budget–they are designed to raise revenue,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “But White House proposals cannot become law unless they are approved by Congress.”
AOPA president Craig Fuller said that while the Administration’s budget document exempts piston, military and other governmental aircraft, along with air ambulances, aircraft operating outside “controlled airspace” and Canada-to-Canada flights, past experience has shown that such exemptions are likely to disappear once user fees are in place.
“Once the collection system is imposed, new fees and fee increases bypass the congressional approval process that currently keeps excise taxes in check,” Fuller said. “Pay at the pump has worked since the dawn of powered flight, and it still works.”
For once, the nation’s airlines are standing with GA in opposing the $100 levy. Airlines for America, which represents the airlines, accused the Obama Administration of offsetting the budget deficit on the backs of airline customers. In addition to the $100-per-flight fee, the White House proposal would triple the airline security tax to $7.50 for each one-way trip over the next five years.