Here we go again. I’ve long said that all pilots will need to fight even more diligently in the future than we’ve fought in the past to preserve our aviation privileges. A press release today from the AEA, Aircraft Electronics Association, signals that once again we need to rally all pilots to fight proposed user fees. Deficit reduction is important, but preserving our industry is also important.
Currently the proposed $100 per flight fee would only apply to aviation operators flying in controlled airspace. It’s not clear how the FAA would identify which flights would have to pay the fee; the proposal exempts “public aircraft, recreational piston aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace and Canada-to-Canada flights.” But if you think you don’t need to worry because you only fly a piston airplane for pleasure, think again.
General aviation pilots in countries outside the U.S. have generally pointed to user fees as the major cause of decline in aviation activity in their countries. Whether it’s the 20 pound (think $30) per landing fee charged at some airports in England, or the more than $100 per ILS approach fee charged in Australia, user fees hurt all pilots. While they may initially only target business flights (e.g. perhaps turbine aircraft), it’s a sure bet that they will eventually be extended to all aircraft.
Fees of this nature typically create a downward spiral that is difficult to stop. When fees are applied, aircraft owners either fly fewer hours or fly in a manner to avoid the fees, such as by scud running in marginal VFR to avoid the cost of flying an instrument approach. As a result, user fee revenues decline and agencies seek to increase the fees by extending them to more aircraft. If we allow user fees to be applied to any class of aircraft, eventually they will be extended to all aircraft.
The end result is a sad one. Just look at the small levels of general aviation activity in countries with user fees to see what may happen here. Not only would user fees force pilots to fly their aircraft less, but it will also seriously impact the market for new aircraft, which will lead to further job losses in Wichita, Duluth and other major cities where GA aircraft manufacturers are located.
Shortly, I expect we will all receive email notifications to contact our congressional representatives to let them know that levying user fees will kill our industry, while only temporarily bringing in limited revenue. When that call comes, make your voice heard. And in the meantime, support our industry associations that continue to raise money so that they can pull out all of the stops to help fight seminal battles like these.