Mineta's Aero Club Speech Alarms EAA Officials
References To User Fees, Additional Equipment Ominous To GA
January 26, 2006 — Although user fees have been rejected by Congress and the general aviation community on an almost-yearly basis over the past decade, EAA officials are extremely concerned following U.S Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta's speech to the Aero Club of Washington (D.C.) on Tuesday, Jan. 24, in which he seemed to float the idea once again.
Secretary Mineta told the audience "I expect that we are going to see a cost-based plan that creates a more direct relationship between revenue collected and services provided." Although the Secretary did not offer specifics of the plan, he noted that it reflected a "stable and predictable" source of revenue for FAA's capital improvements.
"While the exact form of the plan was not outlined by the Secretary, it sure sounded like an oblique reference to user fees," said Doug Macnair, EAA's vice president of government relations. "EAA has been loud and consistent on this point: We are categorically opposed to user fees for general aviation, especially since the FAA has not shown effective cost controls or accountability for the capital improvement programs it wants to undertake."
Because the National Airspace System benefits every citizen of the nation whether they fly or not, Congress has long held that FAA and the upkeep of the infrastructure should be paid from the nation's general fund. In addition, general aviation pilots pay a fuel tax to the Aviation Trust Fund, which is supposedly earmarked for modernization and infrastructure improvements. However, FAA has been funding its operations budget from the trust fund, draining it of the revenue needed for capital improvements and modernization.
"The major airlines and commercial operators favor user fees because they hope to offload many of the costs for operations and services on to general aviation, even though the nation's air traffic system is truly designed to serve the air carriers not general aviation," Macnair said. "If the FAA operations budget were properly funded from the general fund as intended, and capital improvements covered by the Aviation Trust Fund, the issue would be resolved."
In addition, Macnair expressed concern when Mineta spoke of the progress within DOT's Next Generation initiative, including a system that would allow federal officials track all aircraft operations. While Secretary Mineta again did not mention specifics of the plan, the so-called NextGen program has the potential to burden aircraft owners and pilots with expensive mandatory equipment requirements and/or regulations.
"It is ironic that such a proposal, which could add considerable cost and complexity for GA pilots, could be brought forward while FAA and DOT have presented the new sport pilot/light sport aircraft rule as a way to promote an economical way to fly," Macnair said. "The general aviation community must have a voice regarding such a plan, because it will be the individual pilot and aircraft owner who will be directly affected and older non-electrically equipped aircraft potentially barred from the nation's airspace. This prospect is patently unacceptable to EAA."
EAA will continue to engage with federal and elected officials and ardently defend its members against burdensome costs or regulations.