By Paul Lowe
Three grassroots general aviation business owners told Congress last month that user fees in any form would be “devastating” to the general aviation community. At a hearing called by the House Small Business Committee, the trio blasted President Obama’s call for a $100 per-flight fee for turbine-powered fixed-wing aircraft.
“The costs associated with user fees far outweigh any benefit to deficit reduction,” said National Air Transportation Association (NATA) treasurer Marian Epps, whose family operates Epps Aviation in Atlanta.
Martha King, who with her husband founded King Schools, a provider of flight-training courses, added, “It is difficult to imagine how…people in Washington could be contemplating an onerous, regressive and administratively burdensome new per-flight tax euphemistically called a ‘user fee.’”
Orlando-headquartered Restaurant Equipment World depends on general aviation to conduct business, according to company president Brad Pierce. “I consider my airplane to be one of my best employees,” he explained. The company flies a Turbo Cirrus SR-22 and has placed a deposit on a Cirrus Vision Jet.
The three general aviation witnesses–Epps representing NATA, King representing NBAA and Pierce representing AOPA–were sympathetically received by most lawmakers on the committee. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a general aviation pilot who is co-chairman of the House GA Caucus, accused President Obama of “revenue mining” with the per-flight user fee. “There is no indication [the tax] is going to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund,” he revealed.
The committee dubbed the hearing “User Fees in the Aviation Industry: Turbulence Ahead.” It noted that in his fiscal year 2013 budget, President Obama proposed to create a $100 per-flight fee, payable to the FAA, by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace. All piston, military and public aircraft, air ambulances and aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace would be exempted.
Epps told the committee this $100 departure fee would “decimate” small businesses and organizations around the country that depend on general aviation, and a system of “after the fact” bills would result in a massive administrative burden for all general aviation pilots. “Companies would have to employ significant resources for verifying the bills and ensuring their accuracy,” Epps said.
“We are counting on you to spread the word: ‘Per-flight fees destroy,’” King told the congressional panel. She went on to underscore the general aviation community’s long-held position that the “pay-at-the-pump” fuel tax is the most efficient, least burdensome way for the general aviation community to help pay for operation of the nation’s air transportation system.
Noting that Restaurant Equipment World’s current Turbo Cirrus SR-22 is the third airplane that the company has used to grow its business, Pierce testified, “It has consistently allowed me to expand the boundaries of our service area because we can reach potential clients fast, even when they are located hundreds or thousands of miles from our Orlando headquarters.”