Escalating a battle over who should pay for a modernized air traffic control system, a new coalition of private aircraft operators said Tuesday they want Congress to reject a plan that shifts more costs onto them.
To fund a satellite-based navigation system that is superior to radar and radio, the Federal Aviation Administration proposes replacing a 7.5 percent tax on airline tickets with a combination of fees and taxes.
The proposal requires owners and operators of corporate jets and other small planes to bear more of the system's costs. While commercial airlines account for around 75 percent of operating costs of air traffic control, they pay more than 95 percent of the costs, says Marion Blakey, FAA administrator.
The Alliance for Aviation Across America argued at a briefing Tuesday that the FAA's plan would harm rural communities, small airports, flying enthusiasts, flight schools, charities and small businesses.
"We stand united against a radical user fee proposal that would decimate individuals, businesses and communities," said Selena Shilad, an alliance spokeswoman.
Gene Wright, a longtime pilot and the mayor of Quinwood, W.Va., said the new fee system would harm companies that do business in his state and operators of small aircraft. "It's just devastating to those people," he said.
The Air Transport Association, the airline industry's trade group, says the current funding system has not changed to reflect growth in small aircraft use the past 35 years.
Airlines want a system in which passengers don't subsidize "the corporate executive flying to a ski weekend in his business jet," said a statement from John Meenan, executive vice president of ATA.
However, advocates for small aircraft users say only a small portion are Fortune 500 company executives.
"It's not just a rich man's hobby ... The majority of the general aviation pilots are just average folks who have decided that this is something that they would really like to do and this is the place where they'd like to spend their discretionary dollars," said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The AOPA is an advocacy group for more than 411,000 private pilots.
AOPA members are encouraged by some lawmakers' reaction to the FAA's proposal. Rep. Jerry Costello, D.-Ill., chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees aviation issues, said at a hearing last month that he has "grave reservations" because it would give the FAA too much authority to impose fee hikes.
Even though the FAA hasn't said how much a modernized system would cost, the current ticket tax is inadequate, partly because of the growth of low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines Co. and also because the average commercial airplane is smaller and carries fewer passengers, the agency says.
Still, Kenneth Mead, former inspector general of the Transportation Department during the Clinton administration, said at Tuesday's coalition briefing that the existing funding arrangement is "more than adequate" to pay for an upgraded system.
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