The House got it right, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the world's largest civil aviation association. The House last night introduced its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding bill, which would modernize the air traffic control (ATC) system, increase airport funding, and do it all within the existing tax structure and without user fees.
"The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and aviation subcommittee refused to be bullied by the airlines or accept the FAA's claims of poverty," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "They took a reasoned, rational look at what needed to be done and how to pay for it, and delivered a solution that promotes the interests of all segments of aviation.
"We will ask AOPA members to let their congressional representatives know that we support the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 (House Rule 2881)," Boyer said. "And we thank Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), and ranking members John Mica (R-Fla.) and Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) for their vision in crafting this bipartisan bill that would ensure America's air transportation system remains the best in the world."
Working within the existing funding structure of aviation fuel taxes and passenger ticket taxes, the bipartisan House bill would provide historic funding levels for the FAA over the next four years.
More money where it's needed
Nearly $13 billion would be available for ATC modernization, NextGen (the ATC modernization program) and other FAA capital improvements. That's more than $1 billion beyond what the administration proposed in the FAA's actual bill.
Airports would be slated for $15.8 billion in improvements over the course of the bill -- some $4 billion more than what the administration proposed. The Transportation Committee adjusted some of the funding formulas to ensure that smaller general aviation airports -- which have no other significant source of capital improvement money -- would receive a reasonable amount of these Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds.
"And the committee was able to significantly enhance the FAA's budget without resorting to radical new funding schemes or user fees," said Boyer.
Slight increase in avgas taxes
Closer to the pocketbook of most pilots, the Transportation Committee will recommend a modest increase in aviation fuel taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the ultimate authority to set taxes.
Jet fuel taxes would increase from 21.8 to 30.7 cents per gallon, and avgas taxes would go from 19.3 to 24.1 cents per gallon.
"That's less than a nickel increase for avgas and is based on the rate of inflation since the last reauthorization in 1998," said Boyer. "It's a price worth paying to take our aviation system to the future. And it's a whole heck of lot better than the 263-percent tax increase and user fees that the FAA wanted."
But while the committee was willing to give the FAA more than enough to build NextGen, it also took stern measures to make sure the money would be spent wisely.
In particular, committee members cast a wary eye over the FAA's plans to contract out the building and operating of the ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) system, the "backbone" of NextGen.
They noted that the FAA's first effort at contracting out a major service -- the flight service station system, had significant start-up problems. "Given the large scale of the [ADS-B] acquisition, the bill requires the FAA to insert provisions into the contract that will protect the government's interest and help the FAA to ensure uninterrupted service," noted a committee summary of the bill.
FSS problems get attention
And they didn't ignore current flight service station problems. "Users have reported serious and systemic safety-related technical and operational performance problems [with the AFSS system]," the committee said.
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