Even With Fuel Tax Increases, It's "A Great Bill"
If this is what we end up with, general aviation will win the
user fee battle... but that's a BIG "if." The Aircraft Owners and
Pilots Association says release of the FAA Reauthorization Act of
2007 from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is a
giant step forward... though the group cautions we're far from the
end of a 12-step process.
The bill must now be considered by the House Ways and Means
Committee, which will actually set the taxes on aviation fuel and
passenger tickets. The Science and Technology Committee will also
have a say, and the Rules Committee will determine if the bill gets
to the House floor for a vote.
At different points during the bill's journey toward that floor
vote, amendments could be offered that might change some provision
of the legislation. Meanwhile, another FAA funding bill is making
its way through the Senate, where it is currently under review by
the Senate Finance Committee after coming out of the Commerce
Committee. That bill, too, could be modified at any point.
After the full Senate approves its version of the bill, and the
full House votes on the FAA reauthorization bill, both bills go to
a conference committee made up of selected lawmakers appointed from
the House and Senate.
The conference committee will reconcile the differences between
the two versions of the bill. And sometimes unexpected or "stealth"
measures can slip in during conference.
From the conference
committee, the final bill goes back to the House and Senate for a
vote again. If approved by both bodies, it then goes to the
president, who can sign it into law or veto the legislation.
"As you can see, the fight is far from over," said AOPA
President Phil Boyer, "and we have to be ready to challenge any
attempts to dismember the House bill."
AOPA says, by and large, the House got it right -- an FAA
funding bill that would modernize the air traffic control system,
increase airport funding, and do it all within the existing tax
structure. User fees for ATC services are listed nowhere in the
"The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee and aviation subcommittee refused to be bullied by the
airlines or accept the FAA's claims of poverty," said AOPA
President Phil Boyer. "They took a reasoned, rational look at what
needed to be done and how to pay for it, and delivered a solution
that promotes the interests of all segments of aviation."
Boyer also thanked Transportation Committee Chairman Jim
Oberstar (D-MN), aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello
(D-IL), and ranking members John Mica (R-FL) and Thomas Petri
(R-WI), "for their vision in crafting this bipartisan bill that
would ensure America's air transportation system remains the best
in the world."
More Money For ATC Modernization
AOPA notes that, under the House
plan, nearly $13 billion would be available for ATC modernization,
the FAA's NextGen ATC modernization program and other FAA capital
improvements. That's more than $1 billion beyond what the
administration proposed in the FAA's actual bill.
Airports would be slated for $15.8 billion in improvements over
the course of the bill -- some $4 billion more than what the
administration proposed. The Transportation Committee adjusted some
of the funding formulas to ensure that smaller GA airports —
which have no other significant source of capital improvement money
— would receive a reasonable amount of these Airport
Improvement Program (AIP) funds.
"And the committee was able to significantly enhance the FAA's
budget without resorting to radical new funding schemes or user
fees," said Boyer.
Increased Fuel Taxes
Closer to the pocketbook of most pilots, the Transportation
Committee will recommend a modest increase in aviation fuel taxes
to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the ultimate
authority to set taxes.
Jet fuel taxes would increase from 21.8 to 30.7 cents per
gallon, and avgas taxes would go from 19.3 to 24.1 cents per
While no increase is a good increase, Boyer notes "that's less
than a nickel increase for avgas, and is based on the rate of
inflation since the last reauthorization in 1998."
"It's a price worth paying to take our aviation system to the
future. And it's a whole heck of lot better than the 263-percent
tax increase and user fees that the FAA wanted."
Tighter Control Over FAA Spending
AOPA notes while the
committee was willing to give the FAA more than enough to build
NextGen, it also took stern measures to make sure the money would
be spent wisely. In particular, committee members cast a wary eye
over the FAA's plans to contract out the building and operating of
the ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) system, the
"backbone" of NextGen.
They noted the FAA's first effort at contracting out a major
service -- Lockheed's takeover of the flight service station system
-- had significant start-up problems. "Given the large scale of the
[ADS-B] acquisition, the bill requires the FAA to insert provisions
into the contract that will protect the government's interest and
help the FAA to ensure uninterrupted service," noted a committee
summary of the bill.
The House didn't ignore current flight service station problems,
either. "Users have reported serious and systemic safety-related
technical and operational performance problems [with the AFSS
system]," the committee said.
If The House Wins, GA Wins
In summary, Boyer said all parties involved would do well to
adhere as closely as possible to the House funding plan for the
"As we consider the three FAA reauthorization bills now pending
before Congress, the FAA's bill is totally unacceptable. And
thankfully, it appears to be dead," Boyer said. "The Senate
addressed many of general aviation's concerns in its version, but
the imposition of $25 per flight air traffic control user fee would
ultimately and inevitably harm general aviation."
"The members of the House Transportation Committee truly
listened to our members and their constituents and understood all
of the issues confronting general aviation," Boyer continues. "The
FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 would pay for the badly needed
modernization of America's air traffic control system and would
provide money to maintain and improve the general aviation airports
that are vital to the total system, and it would do so without
imposing the user fees that have led to the near extinction of GA
in countries like Australia, New Zealand, England, and Germany.
"This is a great bill."
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the FAA funding bill June
28. It will now be considered by other House
committees before being sent to the House floor for a vote.