AIN Blog: Aviation User Fees? No Thanks!

 - December 10, 2011, 11:05 AM
overwhelming paperwork
#$%*& user fees!!! Overworked pilots, dispatchers and accounts have enough to do without worrying about feeding the inevitable bureaucracy that will spring up to collect user fees. (Photo: koratmember/

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.

Photo: koratmember/



The little understood fact about user fees is the cost of collection. Today, fuel tax is collected at the pump when we purchase fuel. The FBO's remit the tax monthly in a very efficient system that has been in place for decades. As a roiutine matter the IRS need audit only 2,500 FBO's to insure that all the tax is being paid ... a relatively simple process.

User fees will be collected from each pilot of each aircraft for each flight. It will take an army of IRS agents to locate and bill for the fee thus significantly diluting the amount collected. If they demand payment when you file a flight plan many pilots will simply NOT FILE and seriously degrade safety and possible search efforts. The system is not broken and this concept will guarantee to break it.

Not only will there be an impetus to not file, misreporting of type/weight of aircraft will tempt operators to skinny down their fees. Not filing will certainly degrade safety, as certainly as scud running does everywhere. Do yourself a favor and follow the link above to Canada's fee calculator (the link takes you to the fee calculator), then look at the "Customer Guide to Charges" which attempts to explain the charges, whether it be for the little guy or big guy. I couldn't sit through all 52 pages of it.

Now extrapolate that up to what the US equivalent would be like, especially with its tendency to introduce additional complexity on an annual basis. This will be the aeronautical equivalent of the US tax code within a decade. But hey, think of all the government jobs created,,,

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