(Disclaimer: These comments and thoughts are mine, and not necessarily those of Arizona Pilots Association)
For many of us there was a great feeling of relief when this election cycle ended. Never mind who won, but the feeling that it is finally over! The election may be over, but the next cycle is just beginning.
What am I talking about? User fees, of course.
I made a statement a few years ago, that Obama would not leave office without some kind of aviation user fees in place. To my relief, and to many others, I was wrong. Not that he didn’t try to get user fees in place. In 2013 the Administration wanted a $100.00 per flight user fee on general aviation operations. Piston aircraft would be exempted. So, I’m not so good at predicting the future after all! But I can predict that once user fees get started, they expand and every flight, even piston airplanes, would eventually be taxed with a user fee.
To the great credit of AOPA, NBAA, EAA, and many other aviation advocates, user fees have been blocked. Just about every administration since Kennedy has tried to put some kind of aviation user fees in place. We have been lucky, so far.
Why is aviation so successful in the United States? No user fees! Just read any story about traveling by private aircraft outside of the U S, and you will see what user fees have done to aviation in other countries. Oh, sure, we do pay some user fees: taxes on our fuel, landing fees at some airports, or parking fees. Those fees are relatively small, and the money goes to the local facility, not to the FAA or the Federal Government. If you do fly out of the country, for example to Canada or Mexico, you will need a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decal, actually called “a user fee.” The cost is $27.50 per year for the decal and I suspect that the “user fee” terminology is there to get us used to the term and the idea of user fees (remember, this is only my opinion). A portion of your fuel taxes do go to the Federal Government, and that pays for the FAA and ATC, at least in part if not all.
The President-elect has stated that he favors “privatizing ATC.” I consider that a bad idea. Privatizing is a first step to getting user fees. The reason we have been successful in blocking user fees, is the letter writing, hard work, and personal contacts with our Congress members. Remove ATC from the control of Congress, and they won’t have to take the heat from constituents on user fees. Once you start such a cycle, it is really hard to go back. The AOPA and other general aviation organizations have their work cut out for them already.
Past Republican and Democrat administrations have proposed user fees on general aviation. Why is general aviation such a target? Most administrations have little understanding of GA and what it does for this country. Can you imagine any administration suggesting a user fee on automobiles? Try to put a ten cent user fee on every auto for every trip to the store. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? The public outcry would be that we already pay in the form of taxes on our gasoline. Wait a minute. Did I get that right? Doesn’t aviation pay fuel taxes as well? Sure they do. And it is the fairest system available. The bigger the plane, the more fuel it uses, and thus the more taxes it pays. A Boeing 737 would pay a lot more tax than a Cessna 172, but then the 172 would not use the ATC system nearly as much as the larger plane, if he used it at all. Yes, I do know that the airlines are taxed at a different rate than GA, and that the airlines just pass on the tax built into their airfares. GA does not have that luxury.
If user fees are such a bad idea, why do they keep coming back over and over again? It’s all about the money. The government’s never ending quest for more money. In every presidential election cycle, taxes are a number one subject. You cannot pledge to raise taxes and expect to get elected. So to disguise the “tax” they call it a “user fee.” That might be OK if there was no other tax already involved, but there are, in the form of fuel taxes and registration fees. You will never hear a proposal to eliminate the fuel taxes and replace the funding with user fees. Politicians just don’t think that way. Once you have a tax in place, it is very hard to get rid of it, but apparently not so hard to increase the tax.
The General Aviation system in the US is the finest in the world. Just ask anyone that flies anywhere else and they will tell you that. Foreign airlines send their pilot candidates to the US for training. The cost of training, including transportation to and from the US, and including the living expenses, is still much less than just about anywhere else in the world. Why would anyone want to screw up such a good thing? I don’t know. Write your Congressman and ask them why they want to make a good thing worse. We have been lucky so far, but do not let your guard down. We need to protect this good thing that we do have.
Can we make a good thing even better? We should try. Keep on trying to reduce the accident rate, and increase aviation safety. You can do that by attending safety seminars, and getting recurrent training. Check the APA website and come to a seminar near you, and don’t forget to “bring your wingman.”