NBAA: User Fees on the Canadian Model

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There is a movement in Washington to reform the FAA and Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure made it pretty clear that the government is looking north for ideas during his speech at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando on Tuesday.

Canada has had privatized air traffic control for almost 20 years and the system works.

NavCanada, the private, not-for-profit corporation that runs the system does so with the careful scrutiny of the government but it has some freedom to innovate and even profit from investments in new technologies. NavCanada innovations have been purchased by ATOs in other countries and it’s now a lead partner in a satellite-based aircraft tracking system could ensure there will never be a repeat of MH370. Any money it makes is put back into the system and the result is that NavCanada has some of the most up-to-date systems and equipment in the world.The Canadian system is safe and chances are if you’ve ever flown from the U.S. to Europe or Asia your airplane has been under NavCanada control.

What interests Shuster and the growing number of legislators who are focusing their attention on the FAA, is the financial efficiency Canada has attained. He threw some numbers out that suggest Canadians are getting a bargain. Clearly, air traffic control in the U.S. is different than in Canada but Shuster seems to think Canada has some lessons to teach. Most Canadian pilots would agree, I think. For most GA aircraft owners, the annual charge is about $70 for full access to the system.

What’s interesting is the lack of vehement opposition to statements that would have been viewed as heretical just a few years ago. In fact, NBAA, an organization with a big stake in the future of air traffic services in the U.S. publicly endorsed Shuster’s comments with the hearty handshake he got at the end of his presentation.

Canada has a user-pay system that splits aircraft operations by aircraft size and use, the very tenets of the “No User Fee” movement that dominated the alphabet group press commentary a few years ago. I still have the t-shirt. A few years ago you couldn’t go to any U.S. aviation show without someone mentioning the “user fee” issue. It’s been noticeably absent in recent years. My t-shirt is looking like a collector’s item.

As we reported, AOPA has visited NavCanada on a fact-finding mission, In a followup podcast AOPA President Mark Baker, who led the trip to Canada’s capital city Ottawa (thoughts and prayers to the community and the country following Wednesday’s tragic events) categorically maintained the line on AOPA’s stance on rejecting user fees.

But political momentum builds and I think we have a train firmly on the tracks here.

Whatever results probably won’t be the same as NavCanada, nor should it be. But the overwhelming consensus is the FAA is broken. Maybe those charges with changing it could use a few ideas.

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