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Sat, Jan 26, 2008

AOPA Says DOT's Peters Needs To Add To Her Repertoire

Aero Club Speech Repeats Call For GA User Fees, Tax Hikes

In a speech to the Aero Club of Washington this week, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told a gathering of aviation industry leaders Congress needs to act, and act soon, on an FAA reauthorization bill. That was music to the ears of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association... but alas, much of what Peters had to say otherwise -- about user fees, tax increases on general aviation, and congestion pricing for access into certain large airports -- struck the association as more of the same old, and rather tired, song.

Peters (right) noted it has been nearly a year since the Bush administration sent its proposal containing radical financing changes to Capitol Hill for consideration. Both the House and the Senate rejected that proposal for user fees and a 70-cent-per-gallon tax on avgas and jet fuel in favor of the current tax-based structure, although the Senate retained vestiges of the administration’s user fee proposal.

As ANN reported, in late summer the full House approved its version (H.R.2881), supported by AOPA, but the Senate has yet to bring its two competing versions to the floor for debate.

"The House has passed a version that contains the elements necessary for a good reauthorization bill that funds air traffic control modernization and airport development with a tax-based funding mechanism and no user fees," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The aviation community has been waiting for more than four months now for the Senate to act on FAA funding."

In a statement issued the morning after Peters' comments, Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, reminded Secretary Peters the House has done its part, and joined the call for the Senate to act soon.

"I am sure that Secretary Peters remembers that the House of Representatives passed H.R.2881, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007, last September," Costello said. "It took the introduction and passage of that legislation and the rigorous oversight hearings our subcommittee held for the Department of Transportation and the FAA to take action on so many of the issues Secretary Peters mentioned yesterday."

The House version contains no user fees and inflation-adjusted increases in general aviation fuel taxes. The Senate Commerce Committee has approved a $25 user fee for turbine aircraft -- which AOPA opposes, because of concerns about the fee's potential to expand to cover all users. The Finance Committee has recommended an all-tax financing structure -- again supported by AOPA -- which would eliminate the user fee.

The two versions need to be reconciled in the full Senate, then the Senate and House need to agree on a compromise version that can be sent to the White House for President Bush’s signature. In the meantime, a stopgap measure is keeping the FAA operating through February.

In theory, such emergency funding measures could continue ad nauseum... but pending airport improvement projects are stuck in a holding pattern, because the temporary funding does not give the FAA permission to approve new projects.

"Holdups on Capitol Hill threaten even more delays to much needed long-term modernization and, more immediately, badly needed improvements at airports large and small," Boyer noted.



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