NBAA leads opposition to 'toxic mix', but agency says tax plan will provide equality

Business aviation trade groups have responded quickly and harshly to the US Federal Aviation Administration's proposal last week to change the way air traffic control services are to be funded from 2009.

The announcement, coupled with the unveiling of President George Bush's $14.1 billion fiscal year 2008 FAA budget request, capped more than a year of speculation as to how the government would propose to renew the revenue structure of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund (AATF).

AATF pays most of the FAA's expenses, the bulk of which - about $9 billion - are needed for air traffic services. Under Bush's proposal, airlines would drop their ticket and segment taxes in lieu of a user fee proportional to the length of time an aircraft is handled by air traffic control, regardless of the size of the aircraft.

A board made up of aviation stakeholders would set the fees. The plan also defines a new charge for all aircraft to access the nation's most congested airspace, although details are not yet available.

General aviation will continue to pay for its services via a fuel tax, although the amount paid will rise. "NBAA and the rest of the general aviation community will oppose this toxic mix of higher taxes, new fees and airline control," says National Business Aviation Association president Ed Bolen.

"The current approach to funding and oversight of the aviation system is effective and efficient - there is no need for radical 'fixes' like those proposed."

FAA administrator Marion Blakey says the proposed tax plan will provide equality in what stakeholders pay for services, adding that general aviation enjoys a favourable imbalance between the services it receives and the amount it pays. To proponents of a revamped trust fund - primarily the airline industry - equality will mean shedding about $2 billion of annual air traffic costs.

Bolen contends the high price of air traffic services is a by-product of the airlines' hub and spoke system, and that costs would be about the same with or without general aviation. As proof, he notes that air traffic costs for Washington Reagan National airport did not change during the four-year period after 9/11, when general aviation was banned from the airport.

Source: Flight International