NBAA Take-Home Message: No User Fees

ORLANDO - If there is one message that the 30,000 attendees at the 59th annual meeting of NBAA were instructed to take home, it is this: user fees will not be an accepted way to finance the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The message of the NBAA, the General Aviation Manufacturer's Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was clear in the kick-off breakfast and in the keynote addresses - business and general aviation will have to fight the commercial airlines' campaign to diversify the FAA funding stream away from the airline ticket tax. The follow-up message: Congress needs to be convinced to put more general tax dollars into FAA to modernize its operations.

Come September, the airline ticket tax and the fuel tax, which have financed the FAA and the airport trust fund since 1970, are set to expire. Back in 1970, the general fund provided 80 percent of the FAA budget. Today, the general fund contributes just 18 percent toward FAA operations.

The airline ticket tax and the fuel tax, which have financed the FAA and the airport trust fund since 1970, are set to expire in September 2007. Back in 1970, the general fund provided 80 percent of the FAA budget. Today, the general fund contributes just 18 percent toward FAA operations.

For nearly a year, the commercial airlines, represented by the Air Transport Association, have been lobbying for a new funding formula. The ATA wants a user fee imposed on business aviation operators. It also contends that aircraft owners and operators, represented by NBAA, are not paying their fair share of the air traffic control system tab.

NBAA members need to mobilize, said Ed Bolen, the NBAA president. He advised the members not to be complacent, either, because they feel the ATA plan is so "radical that it won't pass" and that it is now too late to change minds on Capitol Hill. "We need to be proactive and not stand back."

Unfortunately, there is now a "perfect storm" situation at the FAA, Bolen said, with a low amount of general fund contributions. "This just adds to the pressure for them to try to put user fees on the table."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has begun an aviation educational campaign to garner support from its local chamber members for major changes in the FAA and its funding method, said Gerald Shaheen, chairman of the chamber.

The chamber is seeking:

  • A transformational solution for the FAA, not a band-aid
  • Legislative direction to improve the FAA's business operations, cutting redundancy and inefficiencies
  • A clear technological roadmap for the upgrading of the air traffic control system
  • A renewed dedication that those dollars earmarked for infrastructure improvements must be spent on airport improvements, including general aviation airfields
  • More dollars from the general fund need to be spent on the FAA. The entire nation has benefited from aviation security enhancements, not just travelers.

These changes are needed now, Shaheen said, not in 10 or 20 years.

In her remarks to the NBAA attendees, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said she is in total agreement with the chamber.

Blakey did not venture into the future funding battle. The Bush Administration has not released its long-term funding plan for the agency. While it had been expected this past spring, next February is now viewed as the probable announcement date.

At a breakfast press conference, Bolen and Peter Bunce, the president of GAMA, both indicated that general aviation should fair well on Capitol Hill even if there is a change in party control. Bolen noted that a number of congressmen are private pilots and understand the importance of general aviation to the economic health of many small communities.

At a breakfast press conference, Bolen and Peter Bunce, the president of GAMA, both indicated that general aviation should fair well on Capitol Hill even if there is a change in party control. Bolen noted that a number of congressmen are private pilots and understand the importance of general aviation to the economic health of many small communities.

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