Just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water, Jaws -- AKA user fees -- came leaping out of the surf. On Monday, the Obama administration unveiled its plan to charge a $100 air traffic control fee for most operations in controlled airspace as part of his overall American Jobs Act plan.
It feels like this issue has been debated for decades. My best memory of the user fee debate came back in 1996. The Air Transport Association had just come out in favor of user fees, and I had just taken a communications job with the Regional Airline Association. On my first day, I had the pleasure of listening to my boss get cursed out by an airline executive (guess who) with a string of expletives that would make a Marine blush over a decision not to take a side in the battle.
When I did a Google search using the keyword "user fees" and the dates Jan. 1, 1996, to present, it came up with hundreds of stories. But I promised this would be a brief history, so I'm only going back five years.
- March 9, 2006: the Air Transport Association says user fees should be based on airport arrivals and departures, and the time a flight spends in the ATC system, replacing the current funding mechanism of ticket taxes for airlines and fuel taxes for general aviation.(Aviation Week)
- July 28, 2006: the major airlines and business jet groups are locked in a ferocious lobbying battle over the future of air traffic control fees. Up to this point, all the general aviation trade groups have stood together against any shift toward user fees. However, a new report finds that business jet operators should seriously rethink their opposition to user fees because of potential cost-savings and network improvements.(Reason Foundation)
- April 23, 2007: Since the Bush Administration released its aviation financing reform proposal on February 14, there has been a significant amount of misinformed rhetoric about the potential impact of the proposal on the U.S. general aviation (GA) community. The FAA is aware that GA in the U.S. is more vibrant than anywhere else in the world, and GA — from corporate jets to small personal aircraft — plays a vital role in the U.S. economy. (FAA press release)
- Aug. 2, 2007: In the end, there are two sides of the argument and both have valid points. Since I use commercial aviation and not corporate or general aviation, I should want the user fee since that should lower costs for airline passengers. And since the current proposal doesn’t tax piston engine aircraft, my pilot friends wouldn’t be affected either. Right now, I’m learning toward user fees, but I’m not completely sold on it. Write your comments below and let me know what you think.(Cranky Flier)
- Nov. 24, 2008: Two of the biggest issues facing General Aviation are user fees being proposed in the Senate and the decline in the pilot population. User fees in other countries have effectively strangled general aviation, increasing the costs and decreasing the pilot population. To have a strong voice in the legislative process to prevent user fees and
other future threats to general aviation, we need lots of pilots. However, since 1980, the number of pilots has shrunk from 800,000 to fewer than 600,000 today. (Max Trescott)
- March 17, 2009: [AOPA's Phil] Boyer made perfect sense when he said recently, ”It’s time to take the ridiculous tax increase and user fees off the table so that we can have a meaningful dialogue on FAA funding.” Obviously the agency would rather avoid that possibility. (Jetwhine)
- March 2, 2009: A footnote buried deep within the Obama administration's fiscal 2010 budget calls for replacement of "some aviation taxes with direct user charges" beginning in 2011. The budget did not provide specifics, but the charges would appear to raise about $7 billion, the same amount sought by the Bush administration user fee proposal. (Aviation Week)
- Feb. 4, 2010: NBAA President Ed Bolen said Feb. 3 the threat of aviation user fees seems to be dead “at least for this term of Congress,” and that FAA’s reauthorization bill could advance within the next “four to eight weeks.” (Aviation Week)
- Dec. 22, 2010: A “pause” in any movement toward aviation user fees, additional action on a long-term FAA bill, and an interest in avgas research and development made 2010 a productive year for AOPA on Capitol Hill. (AOPA Online)
- July 20, 2011: As the debt ceiling talks continued late last week, changes in depreciation schedules for corporate aircraft remained on the table, but a series of possible new tax proposals—including user fees—surfaced as well. A proposal floated last week apparently includes potential $27 billion in revenue raisers that would derive from aviation and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (Aviation Week)
- July 21, 2011: AOPA President Craig Fuller releases a video on user fees.