NATCA Study Says Argument For User Fees Based On Misleading
By ANN Senior Editor Pete Combs
If NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin is right, then
your government may be setting you up to pay for aviation services
that are, for now, free.
Marlin has just released an in-depth study of the FAA's Aviation
Trust Fund -- the same fund FAA Administrator Marion Blake and
others told us just last week is big trouble.
The FAA says, faced with increasing expenditures and declining
revenue, it's now worried about the continued viability of the
FAA's Aviation Trust, which has traditionally funded infrastructure
and operational improvements.
We pick up the story from last November, when the
FAA started publicly floating the idea of charging user fees to
general and business aviators. At the time, the
news was foreboding for GA -- if the downward trend in the Trust
continued as it has over the past four years, then general aviation
airports could be neglected almost entirely.
AOPA chimed in last month, warning that the Bush
administration's budget could leave each general aviation airport
$150,000 short in FY 2006. That word came from
the FAA's 30th Annual Forecast Conference in Washington.
ANN Editor-in-Chief Jim Campbell reported from the
same conference that FAA Administrator Marion Blakey hinted again
at the possibility GA and BizAv operators might soon face user
fees. Again, Blakey cited an aging ATC workforce and
Is The Trust Funding Crisis Being Manufactured?
NATCA's study says, however, there is no funding crisis --
outside what the Bush administration is manufacturing.
"What has changed is that the amount of demand from operations
that is placed on the trust fund instead of the general fund is
shifting," Marlin told ANN. "If you look over the history of the
fund, about 46-percent of operations has been funded from the
general fund. In the current projections, which is the basis for
the rhetoric that [the trust] can't meet the needs, it's capped at
"So basically," she continued, "if
you use your money for something you didn't used to use it for,
yeah, you'll spend more."
The NATCA report examines the increasing role of cost-shifting
operational expenses to the trust, saying this isn't a new
From 1973 to 1976 the Trust Fund was prohibited from financing
FAA operations and maintenance. In 1976, Congress capped the amount
of Trust Fund revenue available for operations and maintenance and
included a penalty clause, which remained in place until 1990. In
1984, the annual appropriations bill specified that only general
treasury funds would be used for FAA operations.
"They are manufacturing a revenue crisis for the purpose of
switching to a user-fee based system," Marlin said. Why? "A
user-fee based system is more quickly privatized than an excise-tax
based system." Privatization of the air transport system, according
to Marlin, is a Bush administration goal.
Marlin suggested the entire user-fee discussion was being
carefully advanced by the administration in advance of the Trust's
reauthorization by Congress, scheduled for 2007.
"That's a convenient confluence of events," she said.