Before I get a lump of coal in my stocking delivered by SantaAir, let me stress the word Fair! User Fees as recently proposed would have a negative affect on our industry and perhaps even on safety. Here are some major financial issues we face in aviation:
1. On November 17, Congress approved a minibus appropriations measure which funded DOT and FAA for FY 2012. Bad news with that is the AIP gets a $165 million reduction in funding. Less money for airport improvements.
2. A few days later, the Congressional “Super Committee” failed to reach an agreement on funding and deficit reduction, triggering an automatic $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. Of course those mandated automatic cuts will be changed, but cuts are still coming and how will aviation fare? NextGen needs funding to continue, our airports are in need of updates and improvements, ATC may see reductions in controllers and control towers, and the FAA may not be able to replace 600 safety and certification inspectors lost through attrition.
3. The TSA, its 65,000 employees and $600 billion over 10 years is competing for the same dollars. Cuts in the TSA budget may force further security expenditures by airports and local communities.
So we in aviation are seeing cuts in critical programs, a delay or decline in airport improvements, and the FAA can still be held hostage over non-aviation issues. We have little control over all of that.
What if we had the FAA as an independent agency, self-funded and with a Board of Directors with General Aviation representation? What if this agency was able to (within limits) control its own budget? The current FAA funding is not working. Just adding fees on top of a broken funding system will not work either.
I know using the Post Office is maybe not the best example, but they are independent. Take the lessons learned and lets get the FAA set free from DOT. An FAA Board of Directors should have participation from all forms of aviation, airlines and General Aviation. If that could happen, then some form of user-funding with user-participation could work. It may mean a significant increase in fuel taxes along with some new fees, but GA having a formal seat (or seats) at the “table” would be worth it. BARR could be permanently barred. The FAA could get back to part of its original mandate to “promote and regulate” aviation.
For User Fees to work for aviation, first the FAA must be independent and overseen by those with a stake in the venture. Doubtful, but you never know what can happen.