AIN Blog: Aviation User Fees? No Thanks!
Taxes. I would like to pay fewer taxes, or none at all, but I accept why societies need them. I know some folks think we should do away with taxes altogether, but I can’t see how that could work. Like death, taxes are inevitable.
On that cheery note, there is one tax I believe the non-commercial aviation community needs to keep and support, if for no reason other than to avoid its alternative. The tax is on aviation fuel; its alternative is user fees.
If you are new to aviation, here’s the 30-second “elevator pitch.” The fuel tax is levied by the gallon and paid at the fuel pump (or by credit card or invoice or poker chips, it doesn’t matter). The fuel tax is simple to set (it’s a percentage of the fuel price), simple to figure and simple to pay.
User fees are anything but simple, because they can be anything the taxing authority wants them to be. Want to tax every flight plan that’s filed? User fees can do it. Want to tax the time an aircraft flies over your country’s airspace? User fees. Want to charge aircraft for using IFR services? You guessed it. User fees are what you want. (For more information on one country’s user fees, see Nav Canada’s Customer Guide to Charges.)
To be sure, aviation user fees on non-commercial aviation have been floated in the U.S. for decades. Like stink bugs, they seem to return every year. Also like stink bugs, you don’t want them in your house or in your country.
In September President Obama proposed a $100 user fee on each IFR flight. According to Paul Feldman, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s vice president of government affairs, “A lot of us are scratching our heads wondering why the President put this proposal forward, especially when the House and Senate have rejected per-flight fees.”
The Collection Question
A big problem with user fees is in their collection. While it may take a village to raise a child, it definitely takes a bureaucracy to collect a user fee. Bureaucracies need bureaucrats. Bureaucrats need offices and computers and secretaries and salaries and pensions.
“If you read the legislative proposal,” Feldman said, “clearly there’s an idea this would require a fee-collection agency with the FAA that would be a bureaucracy unto itself. There would be bills to send out and disputes to be resolved. Furthermore, there would be an impact on the individual pilot or company, who would have to review and reconcile charges, and in the event of a dispute, deal with somebody in Washington about what they were being charged.”
And while a hundred bucks per flight may not sound like much, believe me, it is not needed. The fuel tax works just fine, without user fees. If our government needs to raise more revenue for aviation purposes, it can simply increase the fuel tax rate.
(There are other aviation taxes on aviation, such as the Federal Excise Tax and head or ticket tax, which commercial operators pay along with a lower fuel tax than non-commercial operators pay. I think these other taxes could be elimintated and the fuel tax be made uniform for everyone, but that’s a whole other discussion.)
AINonline’s Readers Speak Out
For a month or so, AINonline’s Reader Poll asked readers, “How critical would a $100 user fee on all IFR flights be to U.S. aviation?” Some 164 readers responded.
Eighty-six percent of respondents agreed that user fees would be “Absolutely devastating. The industry needs to fight user fees at all costs” (55 percent); “An additional burden that the industry doesn’t need in this economic climate” (24 percent); or “A serious concern, but I think the industry has bigger fish to fry right now” (7%). Six percent felt that user fees would be “Somewhat bothersome, but we should be able to live with this relatively small expense;” and the remaining 7 percent believe “The aviation industry needs to play its part and a user fee is one way to provide revenue to help reduce the country’s deficit.”
So it seems clear that a large majority of AINonline readers who responded to this poll don’t have much love for user fees.
Want to make your opinions known?
You will find AINonline’s current online reader poll about halfway down on the right side of the homepage .
And feel free to make a comment on any AINonline article at any time.