Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fight User Fees for General Aviation

(Original post 8/15/2007)

Everyone seems to have a blog these days: your mom, the UPS delivery driver, and even the kid who always crushes your bread when bagging your grocercies. I am now officially joining the world of bloggers and exposing my accounts, opinions, musings, and rants to this little ball of dirt in outer space. I am starting this blog so I can recollect my thoughts; and because I like to write. This being my first blog entry, I thought I might write about something important.

The Bush Administration has taken the position that a “new funding mechanism” is needed that “ties revenues to costs and allows us to manage FAA more efficiently.” As a result, the Administration has proposed radical changes in the way FAA is both funded and controlled in its budget reauthorization proposal presented to Congress in February 2007. This proposal includes the implementation of a user-fee funding mechanism, significantly (four-fold) higher fuel taxes for general aviation, and a dramatic reduction of the general fund contribution (from all taxpayers) to fund FAA operations. Such a method would effectively shift the financial burden of the national airspace system to the direct users of the system, ignoring the value of air transportation to the nation’s economy as a whole. - EAA.org

If the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 is voted to include user fees for our National Airspace System, we are all in for a lose/lose situation. User fees have proven time and again to be expensive, inefficient, and damaging to general aviation in every country in which they have been introduced. User fees were implemented in Australia and GA decreased 28% in only 4 years and will likely decline further.

When I was 17 years old I had saved up enough money to pay for my own pilot's license working a close-to-minimum-wage job. I have seen the aircraft rental rates go up from $38/hour to $95/hour in the last seven years since I started flying - much faster than inflation. If user fees are introduced into general aviation, I can't imagine what would happen to our flight training industry. It's getting less and less affordable to fly even without user fees.

After several years of hemorrhaging money, some airlines are currently reporting profitability. Their status is inherently unstable, however, due to failed business models, runaway costs, and cut-throat competition. All of them are looking for every means possible to reduce costs and shed debt through labor negotiations and restructuring. In all but one case, the “legacy” air carriers chose to declare bankruptcy to help achieve these ends. Now they are turning to the government and other users of the national airspace system to further offload their expenses. The airlines want to do this by shifting a substantial portion of the cost of funding the FAA and the national airspace system onto general aviation - some estimates ranging as high as $2 billion annually. At the same time, they seek control over the air traffic system and airspace access they covet as their own.
So what exactly would happen if user fees were implemented? Lets ask EAA:
1) The freedom of access to the nation’s airspace would forever disappear under a user fee system.
2) The permanence and stability of the national airspace system would be compromised by constantly shifting priorities, ever-increasing fees, reduced flexibility, and economic disincentives to make use of this resource.
3) The general aviation industry as a whole would be damaged not just for personal and recreational flyers but for commercial applications, flight training, disaster relief, medical transport, agricultural aerial applications, police, fire and rescue operations, business travel, weather and traffic reporting. The list is endless.
4) Many communities would lose their access to air transportation because only general aviation serves local airports. The U.S. has approximately 5,400 public use airports and more than 17,000 landing facilities nationwide. The air carriers only serve around 500 of these airports with by far the vast majority of flights concentrated at the 28 most congested hub airports. General aviation serves them all.
5) The entire U.S. economy would suffer with the attendant loss of jobs in aircraft manufacturing, maintenance, and service; flight training; business and tourism travel; and all other fields related to the support of, or benefited by, general aviation.
6) General aviation is the foundation on which the entire aviation industry is based and is unique in the world. A contraction of GA would also mean a contraction of the entire U.S. aerospace industry. General aviation alone accounts for an annual economic impact on the U.S. economy of more than $11 billion and employs more then 1.3 million workers. In her January 2007 speech to the Aero Club of Washington, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the aviation industry in total contributes $640 billion in economic impact in this country, or 5.4 percent of U.S. GDP, accounting for over 9 million jobs. That represents our largest single trade surplus.
7) Complexity of personal flying would increase dramatically with the implementation of a fee-for-service process of billing, collection, and enforcement. Just think of the bureaucracy of the IRS that has been implemented for identifying and collecting taxes!
8) Fees would likely be assessed for all manner of services with no cost control oversight, giving the FAA license to arbitrarily raise the fees to cover “expenses” which today cannot even be accurately identified and accounted for. Some examples of the types of fees that have been imposed in other countries include:
a. Weather Briefings Fees
b. Flight Planning and Filing Fees
c. Landing Fees
d. Security Fees
e. Other Airport Service Fees
f. Written Test Exam Fees
g. Airman Certificate Issuance and Renewal Fees
h. Aircraft Airworthiness/Modification Approval Fees
i. Potentially any contact with the civil aviation agency
A combination of these fees can run anywhere from $10-$50 minimum for a basic local flight to well over $300 for a long cross country flight using a live weather briefing, flight plan, flight following, and landing fee.
9) In some countries where a user fee-based revenue collection system has been implemented, some of these fees are mandatory whether you want to use the services or not.
10) The cost associated with flying under a user fee system creates a significant disincentive for pilots to use the safety enhancing services of weather briefings, flight planning, flight following, and in-flight FSS weather updates creating the potential for a net reduction in safety.
11) A user fee system costs a lot to operate because of the infrastructure and bureaucracy necessary to track and collect the fees. This would cost every U.S. taxpayer more money. The present system of excise taxes is paid directly to the government by fuel refiners in the case of fuel taxes and the airlines in the case of ticket taxes. This means that today the government collects very large sums of money from a relative handful of sources. User fees would require the government to collect very small sums of money repeatedly from literally hundreds of thousands of sources.
I have already written a letter to Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, Texas state Senators of the 110th Congress. I encourage anyone who agrees with me to take a stance and let them know how you feel. Even a simple web submission or email to them will help. Here are the websites for the Senate and House. If you would like to read my letter as a sample for your own, I put it in the filebin HERE.

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