Is FAA Stacking The Deck On User Fees?

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Anyone paying attention the last few months knows there is a looming battle over how to finance the FAA. In one corner are the airlines, which are the chief agitators in favor of an airspace system run by a public corporation charging for its services. In another corner is general and business aviation, which have the numbers to prove the FAA's finances are just fine, thank you, and that user fee schemes developed so far have major safety and bureaucratic implications. Plus, there's really nothing wrong with the current system of ticket and fuel taxes. Seemingly serving as a referee in all of this is the FAA, whose administrator, Marion Blakey, has made clear her preferences for user fees. Now, with a senior-level departure and the naming of a replacement, it appears the FAA could be stacking the deck in favor of its user-fee plans. All of which comes just in time for next year's battle on reauthorizing the FAA and its underlying funding scheme.

On Monday, the FAA's internal, employees-only Web site reported that David Baloff, for more than four years the agency's assistant administrator for government and industry affairs, is leaving in November to join Embraer as its new vice president, external affairs. His replacement is Megan Rosia, who will transfer to the agency from Northwest Airlines' government affairs shop. And we all know how Northwest Airlines feels about user fees. Baloff, whose previous experience included service as a policy advisor and press secretary to U.S. Rep. and former House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan Jr., worked on previous FAA authorizing legislation in those positions. In her new job, Rosia will be the agency's chief liaison with Congress and industry groups, just as was Baloff, during the coming fights over reauthorizing the FAA and finding ways to pay for all its programs.