You and User Fees

March 7th, 2014 by Jack Olcott

President Obama’s recently released budget for the federal government’s 2015 fiscal year, which proposes a $100 per flight fee for turbine-powered aircraft using air traffic services, prompts reminiscence of President Reagan’s frequent phase: “There they go again”. This is the fourth year that the Obama Administration has called for such user fees, and Congress has turned down that request in each previous attempt.

Regardless of the party that occupies the White House, user fees seem to be included in early discussions of revenue sources for the government. During my tenure as President of the National Business Aviation Association, 1992-2003, we joined with AOPA and other associations to counter the threat of user fees three times. During the next 10 years, the issue surfaced frequently. So far, thanks to coordinated and skillful lobbying by the aviation community, Congress has refused to follow the Siren’s call. The associations have successfully argued that a fuel tax is the most efficient and fair way to participate in compensating the taxpayer for Business Aviation’s use of the Air Traffic Control system. The point has been made, and rightfully so, that all of General Aviation is carrying its fair share.

Beware! Another phase we often hear is “Past performance is no guarantee of future results”. Just because our community has been successful in countering past arguments in favor of additional fees for using the nation’s airspace, we cannot ignore this latest attempt to tax GA’s turbine fleet. Each of us needs to be mindful that user fees could become a reality, particularly if we take for granted that dealing with this issue is someone else’s responsibility.

While the Obama budget proposal exempts (that’s the wording in the Administration’s document) piston aircraft and aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, the imposition for fees on turbine aircraft opens the door to taxing other users of the National Airspace System. That which is exempted today may be included tomorrow.

Nor should we overlook the negative impact on safety that fees for accessing ATC services might have. Aircraft operators are not anxious to open their wallets without just cause. There will be those aviators who may attempt to avoid ATC services by operating outside of controlled airspace. While such actions are highly unlikely in the congested regions along our coasts and near major cities, in remote areas we might see turbine aircraft dashing from place to place at altitudes just below FL180. We should be careful not to invite unsafe practices, no matter how remote the possibility.

All who participate in General Aviation—from operators of business jets and turboprops to recreational pilots, as well as all aviators between those bounds—should counter the frequent attempts of the federal administration to impose additional user fees. Consider several steps:

• Educate others about our community. Recognize that the average voter knows little about General Aviation, which we usually define by what it isn’t: It’s not Military Aviation or the Airlines—it’s everything else. Air transportation is the backbone of domestic and international business today, and GA is an integral part of that air transportation system.
• Inform the uninformed that all aviation contributes to funding the ATC system. Airline passengers pay a ticket tax; GA pays a fuel tax, with turbine aircraft paying a higher user fee than pistons. Emphasize that the fuel tax is a very efficient way to put GA money into the federal system.
• Communicate the advantages of using business aircraft to advance the ebb and flow of commerce throughout our country. The Schedules Airlines do not provide the degree of air transportation needed to serve many businesses. They do not want to provide service to locations with low levels of passenger traffic. Many locations depend upon Business Aviation for their lifeline to economic opportunity. In fact, the Scheduled Airlines and General Aviation are virtual partners in providing our nation with a safe and efficient means of air transportation. Additional user fees on GA will inhibit the use of a valuable resource.

Our community’s associations, including AOPA, NBAA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), do an excellent job lobbying our elected officials. But there is a difference between lobbying and advocating. Lobbying is directed at elected officials. Advocacy is directed at the voters who elect the Members of Congress. Congressmen and women listen to voters. By communicating knowledgably with friends and associates, you can be a significant force for advocating the benefits of all General Aviation and fighting user fees.

Jack Olcott

Jack Olcott is president of General Aero Co. and past president of the National Business Aviation Association. Olcott has a rich history in aviation, including working as a flight instructor and flight research specialist, leading aviation media properties for McGraw-Hill, and serving on various advisory boards and councils. His current activities involve advocating the advantages of business aviation domestically as well as internationally. Olcott has more than 8,500 hours of flight time and type ratings in a Learjet, Citation I and II, Dassault Falcon 50/900, and Beech Model 300/1900.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.