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Published April 2006

Pilots group takes issue
with proposed user fees

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

Some political battles are more easily won than others.

For instance, take the concerns of the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association over Gov. Christine Gregoire’s promotion of ethanol fuels for cars, requiring 2 percent ethanol in all gasoline by 2008.

That would be a significant issue for many general aviation pilots who use auto gas in their planes.

In late February, Phil Boyer, president of the AOPA, told hundreds of pilots and visitors to the 2006 Northwest Aviation Conference & Trade Show in Puyallup that Washington’s proposed ethanol gasoline legislation needed to exempt pilots who used auto gas in their planes, since the required mix of ethanol fuel would ruin their engines.

Soon after Boyer urged hundreds of pilots to contact their Washington legislators, state representatives revised the ethanol bill to satisfy the flying community’s concerns.

Another issue Boyer discussed at the Puyallup conference — an anticipated new government reliance on user fees from general aviation to help support the nation’s air traffic control network — may not be so easily resolved.

At a recent Federal Aviation Administration budget forecast conference, there appeared to be unity among all the airlines that the FAA should change to a user-fee financing system, he said. Although representatives of the Bush administration at the conference never said “user fees,” they did discuss a cost-based revenue structure.

“Make no mistake, this is about control,” Boyer said. “Neither the bureaucrats nor a select group of users should have the final say on how the system is run. The best interests of general aviation and the general public are served with Congress firmly in the left seat and in control.”

Boyer said Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta told an AOPA audience last November that user fees would not solve the FAA’s funding problems, but “he now talks about ‘new solutions’ to the funding crisis without revealing them.”

“The FAA is claiming a terrific financial crisis that demands a different manner of funding, but they’ll tell you later how they’re going to use it,” Boyer said. “The airliners say they pay too much into the trust fund for the air traffic control system and that general aviation doesn’t pay enough.

“Actually, when you look at your airline ticket, you are the ones paying that tax, not the airlines. That system was designed for the airlines. General aviation pilots often don’t even use the system. We are very incremental users. Any new fees, reportedly to ensure equality (with the airlines), would be very harmful for general aviation pilots.”

Also, Boyer said, the aviation trust fund actually “showed an uncommitted balance last year of $2.4 billion, and a $9.5 billion uncommitted balance is predicted for this year.”

He expects a firm budget from the FAA this spring.

Boyer noted that “all of the House of Representatives are running for re-election this year, along with one-third of the Senate. Hopefully, in an election year, cuts to the FAA budget will be reinstated.”

Boyer also noted that 18 months after FAA approval for sport-pilot certification, nearly 600 have taken the written test, and 107 sport-pilot certificates have been issued, plus 43 certificates for sport-pilot examiners and 83 designated examiners.

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