By Charles Spence
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House Small Business Committee recently held a hearing about President Obama’s proposal to charge a $100 per flight user fee for some flying. Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) came out strongly against the proposal, as did many of the committee members.
Some people involved in general aviation believe that since the proposed fee applies only to turbine-powered aircraft, the proposal should not be a concern for most general aviation pilots. But many argue that is not the case.
Alphabet groups, including many general aviation organizations and airline groups, oppose the fee. Some of this opposition is based on knowledge of what other nations have experienced and are experiencing.
Experiences in other nations show that once a user fee is set in place it can — and is — frequently changed. Different types of flying and different aircraft are brought into the mix by the bureaucracy. Fees may be changed at any time, at the whim of the bureaucrats. These changes — usually increases— are made frequently in nations where similar fees are in effect.
The initial proposal for the $100 fee for each flight in the U.S. in controlled airspace is for all turbine aircraft — pure jet and turbo prop. This means all single-engine and twin-engine turboprop planes would be charged $100 for each takeoff, just like the business jets and airliners.
Types of flying — not aircraft — would be excluded. This means medical, law enforcement, pleasure flying, and similar flights would not be required to pay the fee.
How would the fee be administrated and collected? In other nations, where the fee is in effect, an unelected bureaucracy is set up to make collections and administer the fee. This leads many in aviation to be concerned that much of the money collected would go to pay for a needless bureaucracy. No details have been released by the administration about what kind of system would be set up in the United States to collect the fee or how they will determine if a flight is exempt or must pay.
Where does the money go? Nothing in the proposal says the money collected would go into the aviation trust fund. Once it is collected, the money could be applied to the general fund or wherever the collectors might select.
In proposing the fee, the administration notes that it would ensure everyone using air traffic services are “paying their fair share.”
“For example, under current law, a large commercial aircraft flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco pays between 21 and 33 times the fuel taxes paid by a corporate jet flying the same route and using the same FAA air traffic services,” said Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for General Government Programs Dana Hyde, in response to a petition against the fee on the new website We The People.
But general aviation advocates note there is no relationship between how much it costs to service a flight and how much the pilot would be charged. A general aviation aircraft flying between two airports in the same state requires much less service than another — airline or general aviation — flying coast to coast. Workload on the system would be far less, but the charge would still be the same.
Washington aviation organizations representing general aviation groups and airlines believe the current fuel tax — or an increase in the tax — is the fairest and least expensive and confusing way to pay for the aviation system. A system is already in place. They cite the confusion, reduced activity, and political influence apparent in other nations where the fee is charged as ample reason to oppose any attempt to establish the user fee system here.