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Momentum Against User Fees Is Building Thanks to Member Involvement

By Ed Bolen

In a letter he wrote to NBAA Members more than two years ago, Board Chairman Ken Emerick predicted that NBAA would "unfortunately have prevention of aviation user fees as one of its top legislative priorities."

How right Ken was: For the next two years, the big airlines and the FAA promoted an air traffic control (ATC) system funded entirely with new user fees, and subject to reduced congressional oversight. Recognizing the significance of the user fee threat, NBAA began the process of mobilizing its Members against it.

We bolstered our staff of regional representatives, so that Members would have more opportunities to organize with others in local business aviation communities. We developed the Contact Congress resource, a user-friendly online advocacy tool that helps Members voice opposition to user fees with their members of Congress. We also created an Online Advocacy Center to help Members write letters to newspaper editors, call or meet with their elected officials and get others involved in the battle against user fees.

As all of this was taking place, NBAA continued to fight the airlines' threat in Washington. The Association united with other general aviation (GA) groups in opposing user fees at congressional committee hearings, policymaker forums and press conferences. Our message was clear: ATC modernization should be funded through aviation excise taxes – not user fees.

By the time the FAA introduced its funding proposal earlier this year, FAA officials described their funding plan as a "hybrid" that would allow GA to pay primarily through fuel taxes. In reality, the FAA plan was not a reasonable compromise, because it introduced user fees, promoted a tripling of fuel taxes and reduced congressional control over the FAA.

NBAA and its Members continued to voice opposition to user fees specifically, and to the FAA's funding proposal more broadly. Congress is taking notice.

When a Senate subcommittee introduced an FAA funding bill in May, the Administration's sweeping plan for user fees had been reduced to a proposal including a $25 per-flight user fee and a small tax increase. Less than two weeks after the Senate bill was introduced, the 23-person Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a vote on the legislation. Because of concerns about the per-flight user fee raised by NBAA and others, an amendment was offered to strike the user fee from the bill. That amendment came within just one vote of passing and landing a first-round knockout punch to the user fee concept.

The committee vote was a remarkable show of the growing opposition to user fees among senators from both sides of the aisle. It was also a clear signal that, when the business aviation community mobilizes around a concern, members of Congress pay attention.

The fight against user fees continues, and it is up to us to build on our momentum. User fees are a significant threat to the future of our industry, and we must do everything we can to prevent them from taking root.

NBAA and its Members want the U.S. to have the best air traffic system in the world, and we are willing to pay an appropriate share to support it. But we don't need user fees to modernize the system – that can be accomplished through aviation excise taxes.

Your voice matters, and you've taken the early steps to make sure it's heard. Keep the momentum going, so that Washington knows our position on this most critical issue!