By Jon Cawley
The general aviation community is in an uproar over the Obama administration’s inclusion of a $100 user fee as part of a larger deficit reduction plan.
The discontent centers on several paragraphs in the 80-page economic growth and deficit reduction proposal released about a week ago. It states general aviation users “currently pay a fuel tax, but this revenue does not cover their fair-share-use of air traffic services.” The administration went on to propose “a new mandatory surcharge for air traffic services.” The $100 per flight fee, would be payable to the Federal Aviation Administration by general aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace. Numerous exemptions include: military and government aircraft, recreational piston aircraft (Piper-type planes), air ambulances and aircraft operating outside controlled airspace.
The new fee would generate an estimated $11 billion over 10 years and finance roughly three-fourths of airport investments and air traffic control system costs, the plan stated.
On Sept. 19, the Maryland-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association joined with eight other aviation-related groups in opposing user fees. The group cited bi-partisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives for per-gallon fuel charges rather than a per-flight tax that would impose a “significant administrative burden” and “necessitate the creation of a costly new federal collection bureaucracy.”
Chris Dancy, an AOPA spokesman, said it is true the fuel tax is not providing sufficient revenue, but the industry disagrees on how much of a gap exists. He said the group supports increased fuel taxes because the rate has not changed since 2007 and noted George W. Bush also proposed user fees – unsuccessfully – during his presidency.
“We do recognize the deficit is a significant issue and there is going to have to be some contribution from virtually every segment of the economy,” Dancy said, but added user fees are viewed negatively because they could open the door to additional fees in the future.
“We see that as the camel’s nose under the tent,” he said.
On Tuesday, Washington-based Aviation Across America released a letter to the president signed by nearly 80 mayors in 44 states, including James P. Councill, of Franklin, and Petersburg City Manager William E. Johnson. It cited the value of general aviation to the American economy – a $150 billion impact annually – and suggested the industry is already struggling under current economic conditions.
In a teleconference, Selena Shilad, Aviation Across America’s executive director, took umbrage with what she characterized as Obama’s classification of general aviation aircraft owners as “wealthy CEOs deserving of added taxes.” She said the user fee would “decimate” the industry.
According to a recent economic impact study by the Virginia Department of Aviation, the state has 66 airports – all of which offer general aviation services. The state’s 56 general aviation-specific airports contribute $728 million in annual economic activity, the report stated.
The department of aviation did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment on the user fee proposal. Several Hampton Roads officials, with airport’s in their jurisdiction, declined to comment because they were not up to speed on the issue.
Ken Spirito, executive director of the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, said he does not believe “taxing general aviation is the answer to deficit problems. We need bigger picture, long-term proposals. Corporate aviation is very important to the economy.”
Spirito said general aviation comprises about 56 percent of the airport’s activity while commercial airline and military flights account for 19 percent and 25 percent respectively. To date, in 2011, there have been 82,100 general aviation flights compared to 24,550 commercial and 38,204 military, he said.
Source: Daily Press