Solid progress in the fight against user fees has been made, but the general aviation community has to stay involved for the battle to be won, according to leaders of the fight who took the dais at the User Fee Forum at NBAA’07 yesterday.
“We’re in terminal airspace but there’s convective weather ahead,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the NBAA, likening the effort to a long-distance flight. “We’re not on final approach by any means.”
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) president Phil Boyer and Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA), joined Bolen for the forum.
User fees are at the heart of efforts to draft an FAA Reauthorization Bill to replace the funding mechanism set to expire on September 30. Fuel taxes fund the FAA under the current law, but airlines want the new law to rely on user fees instead. Though the battle has been cast as a debate over the best way to fund modernization of the FAA, GA advocates claim the airlines are using this issue as a smokescreen for an effort to shift $1.5 to $2 billion in annual taxes onto the GA community.
The three panelists reviewed how the effort to impose user fees began, what GA advocates have done to fight these efforts and the status of legislative efforts to draft and pass an FAA Reauthorization Bill that relies on a fuel tax rather than user fees.
According to panelists, the battle began on March 8, 2006, when the airline industry announced a major public relations campaign with two goals: to shift airline taxes onto general aviation and to gain control over the air traffic control system.
The airlines are trying to accomplish these objectives, Bolen said, by vilifying business aviation, dividing the GA community and distorting the truth about the reasons for airline flight delays. The panel backed up these contentions with a host of video and press clips of airline officials and “misleading” ads they created, testimony of government officials refuting airline industry and FAA claims and the comments of skeptical legislators.
In one clip, Representative Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) accused the FAA of “gulping the airline Kool-Aid.” In another, the inspector general of the DOT testified that the current funding mechanism was sufficient to fund a next-generation air traffic control system. And in yet another, James May, CEO of the Air Transport Association, sought escape from government oversight, claiming that to have an effective air traffic control system, the airlines “need separation from Congress, the FAA and DOT.”
Data and studies from government agencies showing airline delays are overwhelmingly caused by weather and the airlines’ own scheduling policies was also presented. Bolen noted that the DOT is currently investigating the airlines for deceptive scheduling practices.
Underscoring the need for the GA community to work together on the issue, AOPA’s Boyer noted this is only the third NBAA Convention he has attended, and the user fee fight is what brought him here this year. “As we looked at Europe and other places with user fees, we saw the end of GA,” Boyer said.