A Giant Cash Register In The Sky?

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U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., characterized the FAA's proposed user-fee-based funding plan as "a giant cash register in the sky" at a House Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday morning. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told the committee that a change from a ticket- and fuel-tax-backed Aviation Trust Fund to a user-fee structure is vital to unlocking the gridlock in the skies. "It's my firm belief that our status-quo financing structure cannot deliver the NextGen system we need, when and where we need it," she said. The committee greeted her testimony with a fair amount of skepticism, though Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., was somewhat receptive -- earning a comment from a fellow congressman that "he's been drinking the FAA's Kool-Aid." Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., asked Blakey if the proposal would hurt general aviation, and she replied, "General aviation would not be harmed.... All we're asking for is basic equity -- the airline passengers are overpaying for use of the airspace." Oberstar concluded by saying he has "serious reservations" about the funding portion of the proposal. "There are 13 FAA divisions that would need to collect fees, but there's no cost accounting for these fees," he said. The committee will hold three more hearings this month on the FAA reauthorization proposal. On March 21 the agency's financing proposal will be addressed; on March 22, operational and safety programs; and on March 28, the FAA's Airport Improvement Program.