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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Bush Transportation Budget Irks General Aviation

President Bush’s latest proposal for funding the U.S. aviation system in Fiscal 2008 and beyond calls for a new set of user fees to replace airline ticket taxes, a move that has general-aviation interest groups lining up to attack it in Congress.

The Bush administration’s $67.4-billion Fiscal 2008 budget request for the U.S. Transportation Dept., which covers the FAA and its regulation and support of aviation, assumes $4.5 billion in user fees will replace airline ticket taxes starting in Fiscal 2009. That level would rise to $80.7 billion through Fiscal 2012.

According to the Helicopter Assn. International’s analysis of the budget proposal, nearly half of those amounts would be collected from airlines in fees for air traffic control services. General aviation users would still pay a fuel tax that would be deposited into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which underwrites much of the FAA’s operations.

But the proposal calls for fuel tax rates to be calibrated to the costs that different classes of users impose on the federal aviation system.

The proposal also envisions an extra fee for pilots and operators who fly in the nation’s most congested airspace. "User fees would enable users to gauge the actual costs of their requirements on the system," the HAI said in an advisory to members.

While HAI continued to analyze the impact of the budget proposal, other aviation groups declared their opposition to it.

The budget proposal follows "intense lobbying by the nation’s big airlines" and "shifts airline costs to other segments of the industry and gives airlines more control over the air traffic system," said National Business Aviation Assn. President and CEO Ed Bolen. He vowed that his group and the general aviation community will oppose "this toxic mix of higher taxes, new fees and airline control."

Joining the NBAA in that fight will be the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., which called the budget proposal "a federal funding hurricane" that would increase general aviation user fees by 400 percent.

"It’s going to take an all-out fight by the aviation community to defeat this," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

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