Stevens Tries To Exempt Alaska Pilots From User Fees

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Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, vice chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, voted against the Nelson/Sununu amendment that would have stripped the $25 user fee out of S.1300, the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill, but he secured an exemption for many Alaskan aviators. The hotly debated anti-user-fee amendment, supported by general aviation lobbying groups, was defeated by the committee by Stevens’ tie-breaking vote. "I am concerned that this legislation as originally drafted places an undue burden on too many small carriers in rural parts of America, including Alaska," he said in a news release. Stevens said he voted in favor of the bill even though it contained an aviation user fee, according to KTUU.com, because killing it would have forced discussion of FAA funding to start all over again. "I don't like the user-fee concept, but the way it's been worked out now, it is a fair thing," Stevens said. Dee Hanson, executive director of the Alaska Airmen's Association, told AVweb on Tuesday that while she appreciates Sen. Stevens' work to exempt rural Alaskan aviators, she fears the expansion of user fees both in Alaska and in the rest of the country. "Our members also fly in the Lower 48," she said. "An exemption is a temporary fix. We oppose changing how the FAA is funded over to a user-fee basis, and the known fact is that user fees for IFR services have the potential to erode safety. We will continue to fight this."

The bill now would specifically exempt all intrastate flights in Alaska from the $25 per-flight surcharge except those flights that both originate and terminate in airspace controlled by a terminal radar approach control facility. It would also restore funding for Alaska airports and the state's Essential Air Service program, which ensures a minimal level of scheduled service to remote communities. Stevens' staffers said the bill is far from a done deal, and it will be changed by other committees before it's complete, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce.