Apr. 26, 2008
In a victory for the small aircraft industry, Senate lawmakers on Friday agreed not to include user fees on general aviation in a bill to upgrade the nation’s air traffic control system.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., called the agreement a major victory for Kansas and its multibillion-dollar aviation industry. Roberts and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., have fought against user fees because they would create higher costs for owners and pilots who fly their own planes.
“For two years I’ve been fighting to protect general aviation from a user fee that would create higher costs and more red tape for owners and pilots who fly their own planes,” Roberts said. “Stopping this user fee is general aviation’s number one priority and I’m happy to announce we’ve done it.”
The issue loomed large in Wichita and other nearby cities where about 40,000 employees make their living building planes, manufacturing parts and providing services to the aviation industry. Any rise in the cost of general aviation flights would likely crimp demand for smaller planes and mean a blow to the economy.
General aviation contributes $7 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The National Business Aviation Association also opposed the fee proposal.
The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill has been bottled up for months due to a dispute over how to pay for air traffic control system improvements.
Some lawmakers wanted to charge a $25-per-flight fee on all airplanes for airport use. Commercial airlines supported the fee, arguing that small aircraft users should pay their fair share of fees based on the amount of services used.
But corporate jet and small plane operators said new user fees would unfairly raise costs on users who could least afford it.
Jack Pelton, Cessna Aircraft Co.’ s chief executive, told The Eagle last June, when the House considered the matter, that the fees would have been “potentially devastating” to owners of aircraft and the companies that make them.
The latest agreement would pay for upgrades through a hike in jet fuel taxes. The increase in aviation jet fuel taxes from 21.8 cents to 36 cents per gallon would not affect 90 percent of general aviation aircraft.
The House version also raises fuel taxes but contains no user fees.
The compromise Friday was reached between Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Rockefeller had been a longtime supporter of user fees, while Baucus opposed them.
The Senate is expected to begin debate Monday on the FAA reauthorization bill.
Rockefeller praised the agreement for taking “the long-overdue steps necessary” to create a dedicated account within the aviation trust fund to build the next-generation air traffic control system.
Source: WITCHITA EAGLE (KS)