By Kelly Yamanouchi
Airlines and general aviation are in a fight over who should pay more in taxes and fees to the Federal Aviation Administration, as the FAA stresses a need to fund a modernized air-traffic-control system to help deal with the growing problem of flight delays and cancellations.
General aviation – such as small- plane pilots and business-jet users – lauded a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday that did not include the user fees at the center of the debate, while an airline-industry group criticized it.
The airlines and the FAA want general aviation to pay higher fuel taxes and a user fee.
According to the FAA, a new system of taxes and fees would create a more stable funding source for a new air-traffic-control system. Revenues from taxes based on the price of a ticket are affected when airfares in markets such as Denver decline.
Financially struggling airlines say general aviation is not paying its fair share for its use of the air-traffic-control system and that airline passengers now subsidize general aviation.
Fees or taxes “should be spread across not just commercial airlines but private pilots … and everybody that uses airspace,” said Frontier Airlines spokesman Joe Hodas.
The FAA and airlines prefer a Senate version of the legislation that included a $25 user fee and removed the federal excise tax on fuel for airlines. Some small planes would be exempted from the user fee.
Private pilots and others in general aviation say the plan for user fees would amount to a tax break for airlines. They argue that the size and scope of the air-traffic-control system is shaped primarily by the airlines.
If user fees were put in place, some people would stop using aircraft for business “because they couldn’t justify” the higher cost, said local Stevens Aviation general manager Mark Niehaus.
Arapahoe County Public Airport Authority chairman Jim Dyer thinks an added cost for businesses flying in and out of Centennial Airport, the second-busiest general-aviation airport in the country, will end up in the cost of goods and services that they sell to people.
“It’s stymieing a big part of our economic development in the country,” said Front Range Airport director Dennis Heap. Skiers who fly on private planes to Colorado “spend a lot of money … and that keeps our whole state healthy.”
But the Air Transport Association said in a statement that the House bill without the user fee “does nothing to resolve record delays, growing congestion and the crisis that faces the nation’s travelers.”
More planes are expected to take to the sky as companies such as locally based Adam Aircraft and Aviation Technology Group develop very light jets.
The FAA is concerned about getting the legislation through before the Sept. 30 expiration date of its current funding. Conflict between air-traffic controllers and the FAA could extend the process.
Meanwhile, said FAA regional administrator Dennis Roberts, “last year we experienced the highest level of delays ever,” and even heavier delays are expected this year.
Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi can be reached at 303-954-1488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: DENVER POST