User fees in aviation seem to be the bad idea that will never go away. For as long as I have been associated with aviation I have heard talk of user fees hitting the industry. The current proposal from the White House calls for a $100 per-flight fee to help lower the federal deficit.
For those not familiar with the industry that may not seem like a huge deal, and it isn’t, for the major airlines who will simply pass on the fee to their customers which works out to practically nothing per passenger. For general aviation users $100 could easily be a large percentage of their overall costs.
Supporters of the fees argue that everyone using the system should pay their fair share, but I guess that all depends on your definition of fair. Currently the air traffic control system is funded largely by taxes on fuel that are substantially higher for general aviation users than commercial airlines.
The following excerpt from an article at aopa.org gives great insight into the current system and what really should be considered fair.
Paying the 21.9-cents-per-gallon tax on noncommercial jet fuel, operators of a Gulfstream IV business jet would pay about $87 in fuel taxes. The commercial jet fuel tax is 4.4 cents per gallon; even with a much higher fuel burn, operators of an Airbus A320 would pay about $68 in fuel taxes.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that general aviation aircraft are already paying their fair share. Unfortunately it appears that the people who are making the decisions don’t seem to understand the industry.
The aforementioned article also points out the ambiguities in the wording of the proposal which further shows the lack of true understanding by the authors. I’m sure it is not really surprising to anyone that a government proposal would be filled with ambiguities, but it has to call into question the proposals validity.
User fees don’t appear to be a reality in the immediate future, but they also don’t appear to be going completely away. Having used the current air traffic control system I totally agree that getting the NextGen system up and running is of the utmost importance, but doing it at the expense of the people who use and support that system just doesn’t seem to make sense.