The way in which the US Federal Aviation Administration and its next-generation air traffic management modernisation project will be funded after the fiscal year ends in September remains very much in question as the US congressional committees spar over competing formulas, each of which would have a unique impact on business and general aviation.

Funding proposals remain in key House and Senate committees, with no anticipated timeline for consideration by the full chambers. House and Senate bills, once completed will have to be sent to a conference committee to craft a unified bill, which then has to be sent the Bush administration for approval or veto.

Business and general aviation advocates were pleased when the more onerous elements of the original funding plan, submitted by the FAA in February and welcomed by the airline industry, were largely left out of the House bill being debated. That plan called for the elimination of airline ticket taxes, a hike in fuel taxes and creation of a user fee based on duration of a flight for jet and turboprop aircraft. A similar bill in the Senate did, however, retain a user fee, although one less complicated than the FAA's proposal.

Aside from making flying more expensive, user fee critics also feared a hidden administrative cost in terms of how much time and effort businesses will have to spend in monitoring, verifying and paying the fees. Business and general aviation users currently pay a $0.06/litre ($0.22/USgal) tax for avgas and $0.05/litre tax for jet fuel, both paid at pump. Airlines pay a $0.011/litre fuel tax.

The House bill (HR 2881) currently being considered calls for an increase in the fuel tax to $0.06/litre for avgas and $0.08/litre for jet fuel, but has no provision for user fees. Airlines would continue to pay the same fuel tax as well as today's ticket taxes and segment fees.

A parallel bill in the Senate (S1300) leaves the avgas fuel tax as is, but increases the jet fuel tax to $0.13/litre and adds a new user fee - a $25 per flight air traffic control modernisation surcharge for business aviation and airlines.

Tempers are rising as the fiscal deadlines near. Senate lawmakers have threatened to limit general aviation's access to "congested airspace" if opposition to its $25 user fee continues.

Source: Flight International