"If they want to create a new source of revenue by imposing user fees, [they] are going to destroy the [general aviation] industry," said Katie Pribyl, spokeswoman for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
The airlines responded: "Nonsense...That's ludicrous," said David A. Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, in phone interview. The ATA represents 17 airline companies and other members of the industry.
"If the FAA costs are the same, why should one organization subsidize these corporate fat cats -- for lack of a better term -- for operating in the system?"
Castelveter argued that the general aviation industry wants "to fly their airplanes for their commercial business at the expense of the commercial passenger."
But Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, does not agree. The group has more than 400,000 members, and the bulk of its members are people who fly small aircraft.
Dancy said that FAA funding problems were generated after airlines had cut ticket prices, which has meant less money for the aviation trust fund. "If the problem is with the airlines, why not fix that?' he added.
"We are concerned that our members will have to pay more [with a user-fee system] to be able to fly," said Dancy.
Pribyl of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association agrees.
"If you want to modernize a system tell us ... how much money you need and tell us what we are going to get for our money," she said.
ATA's May said that airlines paid 90% of the $9 billion raised last year, but used only two-thirds of the airport services. "Meanwhile, business aviation used 15% of the system, but pay only 4%," he added.
Fear of more beaurocracy
Bolen of NBAA said higher bureaucratic costs would likely push up the rates.
He said that Canada, which switched to user fees, has experienced five rate increases in the last five years in the business aviation community. "That is a concern," Bolen pointed out.
Both AOPA's Dancy and Pribyl of GEMA worry about more bureaucracy.
"The tax system is less than a penny on the dollar to collect the FAA fees ...We are talking about an entirely new bureaucracy ... to collect those fees," Dancy said.
But ATA's Castelveter strongly rejected the allegedly administrative burden that a user-fee system would impose. "It's just the opposite," he said, suggesting that two types of user fees are under consideration.
"Instead of paying a myriad of taxes, you will have two fees: one for the time in the system [in the air] and another one for the ability to get on and get off [land and take off]."
Who will control the FAA funds?
The fight over FAA's future funding system is not just about the money. It's also about control.
Right now Congress sets the fuel tax, the money goes into the federal Treasury, and then Congress sends it to the FAA. Bolen of NBAA said that the problem is that airlines want to be more involved in the decision-making process.
"When they are talking about user-fees ... money is controlled less by Congress and more by either the industry paying the fees or some groups," he said. "We are concerned ... that rates can rise faster if they are not controlled by Congress."
Dancy of AOPA also said that if the FAA will set up a user fee, then Congress will be removed from the equation.
While it is not clear what role the Congress will play in the new system, the general aviation community's concerns have been triggered by the ATA's May, who pleaded to take Congress out of the process.
Castleveter, the ATA spokesman, stressed that airlines, which pay the bulk of the cost, want to say something about fees and the FAA's funding system. "There never has been before the opportunity for the users who pays the most to say something about it ... There needs to be some changes in the governance," Castleveter said.
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While the legislative language likely will not be introduced until mid- to late February, aviation trade groups will be looking for clues that suggest the FAA will push for a new system of user fees...
The nation's airline industry is lobbying to cut as much as $2 billion in taxes from its annual tab, shifting those costs to smaller business aviation users and other aircraft.
Industry leaders are opposing a push by the airlines to have Congress impose user fees on business jet operators.