User Fees Agenda Cloudy

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FAA Administrator Marion Blakey was given an opportunity to clear the air on the user fee issue on Friday but didn't. Asked politely, but pointedly, to explain exactly what she meant by comments she made about GA's role in the future funding mechanism for the agency, she told hundreds of delegates to AOPA Expo in Palm Springs that the funding proposal is not complete and that she doesn't know what it's final form will be. The current funding system for the FAA expires next September and Congress must approve reauthorization by then. She told the mostly patient crowd that the new funding plan "does not have to contain broad user fees for general aviation" and that she does "not want to create a funding system that stifles GA." But she did not directly answer a question from the floor inviting her to explain exactly what those statements would translate to in terms of future fees or taxes. She did, however, make it clear that the status quo is not acceptable, although she did say she believes general tax revenue should continue to pay a share of FAA funding (it contributes 23 percent now).

Blakey reiterated her belief that the current system of funding is disassociated from the services it provides and is therefore fundamentally flawed. Most of the FAA's revenue comes from airline ticket excise taxes and she said the combination of lower ticket prices and the use of more small airliners has changed the economic basis for that system. But while she suggested that there are more equitable ways to spread costs over the system, she appeared to reject the rationale of the Air Transport Association (ATA), the lobby group for the airlines, that all users of the system have an equal financial impact on it. "[The new funding system] certainly is not base on a blip is a blip is a blip," she said. Blakey also noted that while fees can be adjusted to reflect costs (she said the agency was working at reducing costs and increasing efficiency), there is less flexibility with taxes.