Dwindling revenues have pushed the FAA towards considering new funding methods including a user fees scheme.

Revenues that finance most of the FAA's air traffic control operations have declined precipitously as air fares shrink and along with them funds from the ticket tax. Department of Transportation inspector general Ken Mead notes: "Since fiscal year 2000, revenue into the FAA's trust fund from the ticket tax has dropped from $5.1 billion to a low of $4.2 billion in fiscal 2003."

But because Bush budget austerity keeps the FAA from turning to the general fund, House aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica says serious consideration should be given to converting the tax scheme before the trust fund faces renewal in September 2007. "We need to look at who is paying what and how that matches with the FAA's cost of providing the services," Mica says.

His panel is considering new ways to finance the FAA, and is studying charging schemes at Canadian and German air traffic organisations. FAA administrator Marion Blakey tells Mica: "I am not at this point advocating user fees or endorsing new excise taxes or urging debt financing or seeking a bigger share [from taxpayers]. There are many different ways to achieve the goal of a cost-based funding structure."

Blakey, however, says it is a good time to begin the debate, which has begun behind closed doors. One participant in a recent closed FAA meeting, Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation, says Blakey "is taking seriously these alternatives since she made clear she believes that the system is broken permanently". Poole's think-tank wants air traffic control to collect fees and charges directly as a self-funded entity. Business aviation fears that would lead to unacceptable user fees.

Source: Airline Business