September 23, 2011

The Obama administration’s decision to include per-flight user charges as part of its legislation to address the deficit and jobs crises has been met with unconditional opposition from across the aviation industry.

Immediately after the plan was unveiled, National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen promised to stand united with leaders of other industry groups to battle the measure.

“It’s bad policy, it’s bad politics, it’s the wrong way to go forward,” Bolen said. “It will drive up the cost of general aviation at a time when we, as a country, need to find way to be more efficient with our money. It is just another wasteful government program.” Just hours after the administration’s proposal was announced, NBAA joined with eight other general aviation groups in issuing a statement forcefully opposing the plan. Later in the week, NBAA joined with 25 other aviation and labor groups in issuing a separate statement opposing the president’s user fee plan.

NBAA Members were quick to echo Bolen’s sentiments.

Brad Pierce, the owner of an Orlando-based Restaurant Equipment World, depends heavily on his single-engine Cirrus to get him to client meetings around the country. He said he flies four days a week, often visiting several customer sites in a single day.

“Take, for example, a trip I made last month to the West Coast,” Pierce explained. Under the proposal, “I would have had to pay up to $2500 more. I can’t afford that. So I have basically two choices: I can raise my prices and risk losing customers, or I can fly less and risk losing customers. Either way, I’d lose business.”

People and organizations outside NBAA’s membership have made it clear that the issue impacts aviation concerns across the industry spectrum.

“To start paying an extra fee every time we go up… yeah, I could see some operators just throwing in the towel and shutting down,” said Ed Scott, executive director of the United States Parachute Association. Many of his group’s members fly dozens of lift missions in a weekend. Taxing them at up to $100 a flight would be disastrous, he said.

“Certainly, it would increase the cost of skydiving, right off the bat. Almost a half-million people skydive for the first time every year. It might dampen that market,” Scott pointed out. The cost of a lift ticket could go double for those who depend on smaller aircraft to get them to altitude, he said.

The concept of an aviation user fee, already turned down by Congress during the last administration, is flawed, said NBAA’s Bolen. He suggested such a plan would require a completely new government bureaucracy to enforce and collect fees. He dubbed it the “SKY-R-S.”

“It’s not necessary at all,” Bolen said. “We already have a mechanism in place for the aviation industry to contribute to the government’s coffers. It’s the aviation fuel tax.”

Under that tax, a portion of the price for each gallon of aviation fuel is paid to the government. Pierce called the fuel tax concept both brilliant and proven because it means those who fly more pay more.

“It’s perhaps the most fair tax that we’ve got in our country,” he said. “It makes perfect sense to me. Somebody like myself, who’s in the air roughly every other day, burns more fuel. I’m paying more into the system,” he continued.

Ed Scott at USPA agreed.

“Our operators like the concept [of fuel taxes]. “The more you fly, the more you pay…We’d like to stay with that and not create an entirely new fee system that would itself require a new bureaucracy.”

“Allow us to pay our share at the pump,” Bolen said. “It’s good for the government. It’s good for our industry. It’s the best way for our industry to contribute.”