FAA budget to spark user fee fight

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Airlines demand greater contribution to airspace costs from business flyers as financing plan goes to Congress

A plan to overhaul how the US Federal Aviation Administration is financed will be presented to Congress in March or April, kicking off what is likely to be a major battle between commercial airlines and private operators over user fees.

“Airline ticket taxes are not adequate to support 21st century transportation needs,” said US transportation secretary Norman Mineta last week, unveiling an FAA fiscal year 2007 budget request for $13.75 billion, down $561 million from FY2006. “The transportation system needs a more predictable revenue stream.”

Authorisation for the current system of financing the FAA – through ticket and fuel taxes paid into an aviation trust fund – expires in September 2007. US commercial carriers are demanding that more of the financial burden of running the airspace system be carried by private operators.

Arguing they pay more than 90% of the taxes, but conduct only two-thirds of FAA-controlled flights, airlines want users to pay the same “whether the aircraft is carrying three or 30 or 300 passengers”. General and business aviation groups oppose user fees, arguing smaller aircraft operating between smaller airports use fewer FAA resources.

“Recognising the sensitivity of user fees…I think we will be able to deal with the revenue issue and be empathetic with what [advocates for general aviation] are saying. We recognise the needs of the future, but have to be realistic,” said Mineta.

“They [general aviation] don’t expect a complete pass, but we’re also not going to tip the whole boat on them,” he said. “We’re not saying there will not be user fees, but we can’t endanger the species of private pilots.”

GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC