Opposition To User Fees Mounts In House Aviation SubCommittee
March 22, 2007 — More doubt and outright opposition to the FAA's proposal for funding the nation's air traffic control system was expressed at Wednesday's marathon House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on Aviation Consumer Issues. Nearly all the members who spoke echoed previous concerns regarding the crippling effect user fees and a sharp increase in aviation fuel taxes would have on general aviation.
None were more direct than Rep. James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who remains "unpersuaded" by the administration's proposal. "I've been through these schemes for 25 years, and you're on the wrong track.
"There is a great deal of skepticism on both sides of the aisle on this financial scheme, and my intention is to give this proposal a decent burial."
General aviation organizations testifying before the committee expressed a desire to get user fees and the 354 percent fuel tax increase off the table so productive discussions can be held on what everyone seems to agree on: the need to move forward on modernization of the air traffic control system and seriously addressing capacity issues.
The FAA's failure to deliver its proposal until February 15 put undue time constraints on the Congress, said Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-IL). "FAA did not produce its plan until February this year," he said. "Time is not on our side." FAA reauthorization is needed before its current authorization expires on September 30, 2007, leaving little time for debate.
It was also acknowledged that the current funding system that utilizes fuel and passenger excise taxes to pay into the aviation trust fund would be adequate to fund Next Generation Air Traffic Control development, but the Air Transport Association maintained a stance that it was not equitable. James May, ATA president, claims that airlines pay for 94 percent of the current system, but only account for 68 to 70 percent of the system costs.
Those figures are disputed by GA organizations, who cite that at the 35 airline hubs which receive the vast majority of FAA funds and resources, general-aviation operations account for only 6 percent of the total. For example, when general aviation was prohibited from operating at Washington D.C.'s Reagan National Airport in the wake of 9/11, overall ATC costs there were not affected.
The FAA acknowledges its proposal would result in $600 million less revenue collected that the current system in FY 2008, and $900 million less in FY2009 through FY2012. The FAA's proposal would also transfer control of agency funding and oversight away from Congress and dramatically reduce public control of how the FAA exercises its discretionary spending.
"The FAA's proposal presents a lot of questions they have not been able to answer yet," Costello said. "If you are to radically change the system, outline the details, costs, and get out and sell the plan. We were told in June 06 that we'd receive the plan. Had that happened, we would have had time for debate. But we received it a month ago."
The chairman added that the subcommittee needs to be realistic and "move on the things we can agree on."