Despite two previous rejections by lawmakers of the $100-per-flight user fee proposed by President Obama, the White House once again has called for the unpopular levy to be included in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which was released on April 10.
On the eve of the President’s third consecutive swing at a tax on most operators of turbine-powered aircraft, a record 223 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter opposing his continued support of a $100-per-flight fee on commercial and general aviation. “Aviation user fees have been proposed in your last two budgets and Congress rejected them,” the letter said. “Aviation user fees have been proposed by different Administrations, both Republican and Democrat, and again Congress has repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected them.”
House aviation subcommittee chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and ranking member Rick Larson (D-Wash.), along with House General Aviation Caucus co-chairs Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.), drafted the letter as a preemptive first strike on the expected tax hike. But Obama remained unconvinced.
The White House has argued that all flights that use controlled airspace require a similar level of air traffic services. “To reduce the deficit and more equitably share the cost of air traffic services across the aviation user community, the budget proposes to create a $100 per-flight fee, payable to the [FAA], by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace,” the budget preamble noted. “All piston aircraft, military aircraft, public [government] aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside controlled airspace and Canada-to-Canada flights would be exempted.”
The White House estimates the fee would generate $7.3 billion over 10 years. Assuming the enactment of the fee, total charges collected from aviation users would finance roughly three-fourths of airport investments and ATC system costs.
To ensure “appropriate input” from stakeholders on the design of the fee, the proposal would also establish “an expert commission” that could recommend to the President “a replacement charge, or charges, that would raise no less in revenue than the enacted fee.”
Airline, GA Interests United
While general aviation groups quickly lambasted the user-fee proposal, this time around the trade group representing the nation’s airlines also jumped aboard. “Instead of using the U.S. airline industry and its customers as a piggy bank for deficit reduction, this Administration should view airlines as the engine of economic growth they are,” said Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America.
NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said, “It is unfortunate that the constant negative rhetoric about business aviation from the White House has once again translated into an onerous policy position, this time in the President’s newest budget proposal.”
“The President’s budget is more of the same for general aviation: more fees, more taxes and more attacks on the industry,” said General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce. “General aviation manufacturers are a key contributor to exports and economic growth.”
Also weighing in was Thomas Hendricks, president and CEO of the National Air Transportation Association, who reminded, “We believe the current method of collecting revenues through a per-gallon fuel tax is the most stable, efficient and equitable source of funding for the [FAA].”
“Rarely do we see so many members of Congress so united on an issue,” added AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller. “The message is loud and clear: user fees are the wrong way to fund our aviation system and Congress won’t support them.”