The Next Big Thing? User Fees

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With that said, the big news at this year's show was that the industry seems more mature than it has in recent years. For its part, NBAA used Wednesday's opening general session to fire an opening salvo against what many are convinced will be the industry's next big battle: user fees. "There is a growing inevitability of a user fee fight on Capitol Hill," declared NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. "The airlines, and their Air Transportation Association, are growing increasingly vocal in their claim that we're not paying our fair share into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund," Bolen said. He punctuated his warning by reminding attendees that commercial air carriers are advocating a system in which all aircraft pay the same fee regardless of size, whether it is a single-engine turboprop or a 555-passenger Airbus A380. Unfortunately, he noted, "that idea is gaining some traction [in Washington, DC]." And the fight could start in earnest as early as next year, since the current federal legislation structuring the FAA and its programs expires in 2007. But NBAA acknowledged it may be difficult to get industry participants interested in fighting that fight. "Some people have told me that user fees have been debated before, and everything turned out fine. [But] this time, things are different, and the situation is far more serious," Bolen warned. The current proposal for user fees has more widespread backing by airlines, he said, and they "view us as their competition, claiming that their first-class passengers have abandoned them for business aviation," he noted.

And the association was ready to capitalize on Bolen's predictions: During the show, attendees were urged to visit the NBAA booth and use a group of dedicated computers to compose and e-mail letters to their federal elected officials. Dedicated software prepared an electronic letter for attendees and forwarded it off to Capitol Hill. "Our industry is now too large to remain silent," concluded Bolen. "Our visibility and successes have made us a target. We must shape our own destiny. I urge you to take the few simple steps needed to join in our effort this week. There are 30,000 of us here, we all oppose user fees, and Congress needs to understand that." And he's right.