Air Traffic Fee Issue Worries Pilots. They Say Shifting the Burden from Commercial Airlines to General Aviation Would Be Unfair
July 30, 2009
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  • By Greg Stiles

    August 16, 2007

    There is a tug of war between commercial airlines and general aviation pilots over future funding of the nation’s air traffic control system.

    On one hand, commercial airlines are pushing to eliminate their contribution through fuel taxes, while general aviation pilots are wary of what would happen if they have to share a greater portion of the funding.

    Congress will likely settle the matter in the days ahead, with the present funding arrangement due to expire next month.

    “The big issue is that the airline industry is trying to reduce its tax by $500 million a year and push it off on to general aviation,” says George Gilman, a state representative and pilot. “The Senate version of the bill would shift all that cost to general aviation.”

    Presently, the aviation system is primarily funded largely through a mix of taxes paid into the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. The Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA), says taxes going into the trust fund are generating record revenues, sufficient to fund all modernization programs. It points out the Congressional Budget Office anticipates continued increase in revenue through 2016, while the White House Office of Management and Budget expects the trust fund to top $21 billion by 2012.

    The FAA has put forth a funding proposal, backed by the airlines, which would shift billions of dollars in tax liabilities from the carriers to small and mid-size businesses that depend on general aviation. A Senate alternative proposal includes a combination of tax cuts and user fee increases that the AAAA considers just as harsh. One bill would allow the FAA administrator to set user fees, while the Senate bill would impose a $25 per flight flat tax on all aircraft operations, except the smallest piston-powered planes.

    “They’ve been floating these ideas for the last 10 years and usually don’t get any traction at all,” Gilman says. “If something like this passed, I suspect it would reduce the amount of general aviation; at least that’s what happened in Europe .”

    Calls to SkyWest Airlines headquarters in St. George, Utah , were not returned. A spokesman for Alaska Air Group, the holding company for Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, said the company generally supports any stand taken by the Air Transport Association, but deferred further comment to the ATA. A call to the airline trade group was not returned.

    “Let’s face it,” Gilman says. “The airlines would just not like to have us up in the air with them. They feel it’s a cause for congestion and slows the system down. There are some jets that fly in that 20,000 to 30,000 feet area the commercials are in, but most general aviation flights stay between 10,000 and 12,000 feet and never get up into the area the commercials are flying.”

    “General aviation struggles as it is,” Case says. “Our feeling is anything that would hurt general aviation wouldn’t be good. I think they need to find the additional funds from some other source.”

    Just as small boat operators don’t pay a fee to the Coast Guard every time they launch, he says general aviation pilots should not have to pay every time they taxi on the runway for takeoff.

    “Everybody that flies isn’t rich,” he says. “We don’t get landing fees from planes unless they are over 12,500 pounds.”

    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at

    Date: 2007-08-16