ATC User Fees; It’s Crunch Time with FAA

By Robert Mark on April 2nd, 2007

Airlines are Pulling Out All the Stops 

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey expressed surprise recently at the heat her user-fee proposal generated so far with industry professionals, but also from Congress.

Blakey was shocked … shocked mind you, at hearing criticism, but few helpful ideas on how to gather the buckets of cash she says the agency needs to update the U.S. air traffic control system.

The White House – with a whole lot of help from the FAA and the nation’s airlines under the guise of the Air Transport Association – is convinced the current funding mechanism will run dry at the end of September and bring updates to the ATC system to a grinding halt. Unfortunately, no one, at least not anyone outside the airline industry believes FAA has made its case for the chaos they predict in the funding system. Nor does anyone believe FAA is the organization to fix ATC’s systematic ills.

Most importantly, we all need to see this proposal for what it truly is … a way for the airlines to gain some control over an element of aviation they have come to see as a significant competitor.

A few of us on the non-airline side of the equation believe it’s time to send the Administrator an informational gift of sorts to help her better understand our perspective … and it’s not very expensive. Certainly it’s only a fraction of what it will cost us if we sit back and give FAA and the White House a chance to add user fees to this industry.

So please, please somebody give this lady a high-speed Internet connection so she can read the report the GAO offered up last week about the FAA proposal.

GAO thinks an agency proposal of such grand scale must be carefully thought through and implies that this is not. And somehow, the GAO seems to think the current funding system is more than adequate to pay for needed system upgrades. No legacy pressure to settle this soon of course, but Blakey’s term with FAA ends the same day the money spigot supposedly dries up in 6 months.

At a conference last week, I listened to NBAA president Ed Bolen make it clear to a few hundred association members that this is business aviation’s darkest hour. And here’s something the FAA and the airlines are hoping … that we’ll all keep the low profile business aviation is famous for and simply watch this happen. 

We can’t folks … not this time.

For a quick look at just one part of the proposal, multiply the number of gallons of fuel your airplanes burned last year by $.50. Used 100,000 gallons … expect your tax to increase under the new proposal by $50,000 annually. That’s only the fuel tax.

Right now, the FAA has not defined the level of the fees they’re demanding. If the legislation moves ahead in any form, the agency will hold the power increase the fees annually by whatever percentage they want. 

While NBAA’s efforts to oppose user fees has been Herculean, Bolen told me it’s time to step up the pressure. Letters are great, “But picking up the phone and calling the local office of your representative is even better. Congress is out on recess soon and it’s also the perfect time to visit your reps in person.”

No one wants to see the ATC system fail. But we don’t want to see our end of the industry collapse just to keep the airlines in business either. 

And despite what the airlines and FAA say, the legislation on the table right now is not a good first step. That first step should be the agency proving to us they need this money and that they’re capable of accomplishing the work. They haven’t done that yet.

Finally, missing from this discussion has been the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, primarily because they have their own contract fight going with FAA right now. At least that’s the word on the street.

This is the time air traffic controllers need to make their voice heard about user fees because if you too sit on the sidelines, you’re life will surely not improve if the airlines are controlling your life. And that’s what will happen if the administration has its way on user fees and higher taxes.

Imagine if 10,000 or 12,000 air traffic controllers – and maybe all the PASS union employees too – joined the fight against user fees alongside the AOPAs, NBAAs, GAMAs, NATAs and AAAEs of the world?

We all have a common goal … a strong ATC system.

While there’s certainly no guarantees of success, all of us working together will certainly give all of us a much better fighting chance than we have now.

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5 Responses to “ATC User Fees; It’s Crunch Time with FAA”

  1. Elaine Says:

    NATCA _has_ been involved in the discussion regarding FAA funding. FAA, for the past several years, has claimed poverty as the reason for not hiring enough trainees (not yet controllers) to get ahead of the controller retirement curve. FAA’s strategy has been to draw down the Aviation Trust Fund, originally designed for infrastructure improvements, by using it for operational costs. Former NATCA VP Ruth Marlin wrote a white paper at least two years ago, debunking FAA’s poverty myth.

    Admittedly, NATCA hasn’t been as active in contributing to the money debate recently. It has been distracted by its work to maintain the human capital side of the ATC system equation. NATCA’s current work, though, taken in the larger view, dovetails quite nicely with work of AOPA, NBAA, PASS, etc, in fact, all of the alphabet groups, save ATA.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    Is there a link you might offer to Ruth’s paper on the NATCA site?

    My guess is that quite a few readers would like to read it.

  3. Dave Koch Says:

    Rob,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. We all need to fight this one in every way that we can.

    I’m even more concerned about the ATA and FAA power grab than I am about the higher fuel taxes and user fees–and I’m very concerned about them!

  4. Jetwhine » Blog Archive » Perfect Storm Brewing for Pilots, Airline Employees, and Passengers Says:

    […] coming. There’s still time to demand action to save some of the system for business aviation. But you need to act … now! And yes, it’s your job at […]

  5. Jetwhine » Blog Archive » FAA Has a User-Fee Bridge for Sale Says:

    […] Like me, Henry O believes the real fight should be focused on updating the ATC system, not creating another new unmanageable bureaucracy. The new FAA/airline proposal would also create an airline dominated agency to run the new ATC system. Guess where well all end up with that bunch in charge? […]

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