AOPA, Northwest Butt Heads Over ATC User Fees

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AOPA President Phil Boyer says his "productive meeting" with Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson Friday led to the result that the two "will agree to disagree" on the topic of user fees for air traffic control services. Anderson claimed in an editorial in Northwest's Inflight Magazine (reported earlier by AVweb) that airlines are subsidizing general aviation through the fees they pay for aviation services. Boyer said Anderson's remarks might have been sparked by the lawsuit Northwest has launched against the Metropolitan Airport Commission, which runs Minneapolis-St Paul International (MSP) and six reliever airports. The commission uses some of the revenue from MSP to cover costs at the other airports. Northwest believes the money generated at MSP should stay there. "I think the real issue (for Northwest) is a pretty localized one," Boyer said. Meanwhile, USA Today guest opinion writer Robert W. Poole Jr. says it's time the FAA started charging for air traffic control services so it can keep up with market demand. Poole, director of transportation studies at the Reason Public Policy Institute in Los Angeles, said the FAA will never be able to keep up with the demand for its services if it's dependent on the political vagaries of public funding. "The answer to demand and supply is to charge market prices for air traffic control services and use the revenues to modernize the system," he wrote. Poole said there is "all sorts of technology" ready and willing to help increase the capacity of the National Airspace System. But he said the FAA is inherently inefficient at implementing new technology because of its utter dependence on politically determined spending priorities. Poole theorizes that an FAA with cash flow from its customers could issue revenue bonds worth billions to jump-start the modernization process. Boyer said USA Today has published those views before but they don't hold much sway in Congress, where they count. Boyer said there is overwhelming congressional support to keep ATC services free to GA.