The Great Debate: user fee questions

User fee sign
Coming soon to an airport near you?

The greedy politicians stay on a never ending quest for more money to shovel into the abyss. Given this, and given that there has been a campaign to demonize corporate jets, the imposition of  general aviation user fees is in the latest budget proposal.

There have been many previous attempts to impose general aviation user fees (in addition to the fuel tax) and all have been successfully deflected. These are different and more perilous times, though, and it appears more likely that there will be a strong push for these fees. And just because corporate jets are singled out, don’t think for a moment that your propeller airplane won’t be included.

Two questions:

  1. Do you think user fees in addition to the fuel tax are justified? (I bet I know your answer to that one.)
  2. What do you think are the best arguments to use in working to defeat the imposition of these fees?
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93 Comments

  • The way I see it if they want user fee’s then they need to drop all of the taxes on Fuel. Outside of taxation we will see more flights less safe because pilots will avoid ATC to avoid the fee’s

  • The best argument, in my opinion, is that limiting fees to fuel taxes makes the most sense because it’s consumption based. General aviation aside, smaller corporate jets shouldn’t be paying the same as 747s because they put very different stresses on the system. Like Shaun and many others have said, incentivizing people not to use ATC can create some major safety problems, especially in busy airspace.

    • I don’t agree with your argument. A Cessna Citation, system wise, causes as much work for an Air Traffic Controller than a 747 does. The only difference is the separation requirements based on size, but otherwise they strain the system equally.

      Now these aircraft put different stresses on the airport facilities, but that’s recouped in landing feeds, Passenger-Facility charges etc.

    • I Agree with Mike! Many, like me, will fly less. I don’t think what I would pay in user fees would make up for what I won’t spend in the fuel taxes.

  • If you implement fee for service, then there are times when the service will not be use when, in retrospect, it should have. Paying for it as a fuel tax means that the service is there and there no argument for not using it.

    User Fees work against safety!

  • Well, the best example to not put these fees is how the general aviation works in Europe, where you have to pay for everything, making GA really expensive as you usually have to add around 40-60$ per flight just to have the privilege to take off and land in a controlled airport.(30$ in a non towered) Then add the fee for parking or the fbo services plus the fuel.

    Here in europe you won’t find GA traffic at all as it’s ridiculously expensive to fly an a/c, I’ve been flying in CA and it was a great experience, please save GA as you know it.

    • Javier has it right about the GA fees in Europe. On Jan. 2,2008, whilst in the UK, I asked an English friend of mine to book a C-182, G-BXZM (along with an instructor)at White-Waltham Airfield – just at the western end of Heathrow Airport (London Center) circle. The three of us took a counter-clockwise trip around Oxford and passed through Brize Norton Center on the way back. I logged 1.4 hours. The total fee was US$296.09!! My young friend wanted to get into the RAF so came to California to learn how to fly first – much less expensive! He is now flying the right seat in a C-130J for the RAF.

      • The cost of the European User Fees is an interesting and often repeated scenario. But in a vacuum, such scenarios are meaningless. What must be attached to it is the cost of the air traffic systems in European nations!

        Without knowing that, one cannont decide if the expense of GA flying is the fault of user fees or the fault of the various reasons underlying the fantastically expensive air traffic systems in Europe.

        But one thing is virtually irrefutable…although GA pilots will refute it until the cows come home.

        Fuel tax-based payment for services rendered to the light GA fleet in this country is RIDICULOUSLY cheap and we’ve literally been “getting away with murder” for many decades.

        Typical light aircraft pilots average 125 hours a year. Assuming 15 GPH, we’re talking 1875 gallons per year which at TWENTY CENTS a gallon equals a lousy $375.00 A YEAR for our use of inarguably the best air traffic system on planet Earth…and above it.

        C’mon folks. A LOT of us pay that for hangar rent EVERY MONTH…and we ALL pay a LOT more than that to insure our aircraft.

        If a typical day of flying equals say, 2 hours, then at 15 gph and $0.20 cents per gallon, we have paid a WHOPPING THREE DOLLARS for our extensive use of the system that day ….not just including Control Tower services but also the fantastic array of components of the “system” that go well beyond control tower costs…INCLUDING ATC keeping the IFR traffic from T-boning us and our use of Flight Following to keep ALL traffic from doing so.

        For just THAT service…which involves people watching out for us for 2 solid hours so that we don’t DIE that day…we pay a stinking THREE BUCKS! Gimme a break!

        And for those of us who use the control tower fields and/or the IFR system, our tiny little “fees” go from the ridiculously (cheap) to the sublime

        It has already been pointed out that fuel taxes aren’t fair because the Citation uses no more of the “system” than we light plane drivers do on similar missions but they pay an order of magnitude more. But hey…that’s FINE with us and their tough luck…right? (-:

        But even though we are literally getting away with murder…financially…with our fuel-tax based system, we as a group squeal like stuck pigs if anyone dares to suggest a few cents a gallon increase in the PETTY sum we now pay.

        So, the powers that be are FINALLY calling our bluffs and saying to us what Crockadile Dundee said…”THAT’S not a knife…THIS is a knife!” (referring to user fees vs. fuel taxes)

        All this goes to show is that people are people who, left to their own devices, can be counted on to LOVE an “unfair advantage” and will go to extensive lengths to preserve it when they have it.

        But personally, what I care about is everyone paying their “fair share” and I could care less about the mechanism used to extract my fair share from me. The notion that UFs are “Pandora’s Box” in that once implemented, there will be no end to increases in them is a bogus argument.

        There is no theoretical limit to what the fuel tax per gallon might be either.

        The fuel tax is merely “the devil we know” while UF’s would be the devil we don’t know. Problem is, the fuel tax isn’t a devil at all. It is, in fact, an ANGEL from heaven blessing us every time we fly with a RIDICULOUSLY cheap way of paying our “dues” to utilize our fantastic air traffic system.

        As Walter Cronkite used to say….”And so it goes.”

        Regards,

        Jim

  • Europe’s experience shows that UFs decimate GA. Thus even the airlines don’t get what they want from UFs, which is that they pay less for the ATC infrastructure. If GA is almost gone then they’ll pay nearly all of it. So all UFs will pay for is the large fee collection infrastructure costs!

  • General aviation is vital to our position in the global economy–where does every pilot start? User fees will discourage prospective pilots. We are on the cusp of a mass retirement of airline pilots, and without a new crop of pilots to replace them, the entire airline industry will slow to a crawl. We need to be very vocal about this and spread public awareness so that everyone will know the catastrophic repercussions if general aviation falls by the wayside.

    • I agree. Flying is already expensive and getting more so every day with the cost of fuel etc. I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to keep feeding my twin Cessna. The revenue that GA generates each state will be cut back sharply as well. Citizens aren’t aware of the boost to their economy that GA provides.

  • It might be worthwhile to argue from the angle that politicians care about- collecting and keeping the most $$:
    In order to calculate and collect user fees, the gov’t would have to create and support an entire new administrative structure, which will *cost* money and eat up a portion of the new revenue. If the taxes on fuel sales and other aviation-related business activity aren’t raising enough revenue to support the ATC system and aviation infrastructure, then it would make much more sense to increase the taxes rather than create a new layer of bureaucracy.

  • The simple thoughts are: As a flyer/student pilot..future pilot. If I pay too much to fly, I skip the restaurant, I hold off on buying stuff from the gift shops, dont fill the tank completely and other small businesses located on the airport/airfield. So, in the long run, how does it help..it gives the govt extra money. The small business owners in the aviation world lose money/business..cause we have to adjust somewhere.

  • User fee will kill GA flying as it did in Europe. Killing GA flying means less aviation fuel sold resulting in huge tax loss for the government, is it too hard to calculate, my Mr. congressman??

  • User fee will kill GA flying as it did in Europe. Killing GA flying means less aviation fuel sold resulting in huge tax loss for the government, is it too hard to calculate, my Dear Mr. congressman??

  • The fuel tax is already in place. If the govt puts a new fee system in place, much of the revenues will go to support the collecting of the fees. I am against all new taxes or increased taxes when our money is so poorly used, but if there is a justifiable need for additional revenue it seems to me that an increase in the tax on fuel would be the most efficient way to get it. But alas, this is the govt we are talking about isn’t it so efficiency is out the door be definition!

  • The national airspace system is maintained by our government to enable economic and personal activity. This means that it too is “of the people, by the people, [and] for [the direct benefit of] the people” who use it, and/or derive benefit from it. The cost for this system naturally should be paid for by those who are the end-users thereof. Our current fuel tax system fairly parallels costs and benefits in a pay-as-you-go method. The greater the quantity of people or cargo an aircraft can carry the more fuel it must use and therefore the more taxes will be paid for the privilege. If one needs to get same load to a destination even faster, the fuel tax system even covers that benefit in a progressive fashion since the power required to move an aircraft faster is related to the square of the speed difference: Twice the speed requires four-times the power and likely four-times (or more) the fuel, with four-times the taxes paid.

    User fees, on their face, dissuade one from using the system; and I think they are intended to be so. To charge operators of small aircraft the same fee to use the system as is charged to operators of large aircraft biases the cost allocation to the benefit of large operators. To suggest that an aircraft with four seats should be charged the same amount to use a runway for 60 seconds as an aircraft with 400 seats ignores the fact that both the benefits of the airspace system and the liability for mistakes made in using the airspace system accrue according to the number of people involved, not by the number of aircraft.

    Our government should be responsive to the will of the people in general, not the will of certain corporate special interests who, I believe, are trying to limit access to the skies in order to increase their own share of the same. I hope we can see that the drive for user fees parallels the drive by a certain company to build a wireless broadband network in defiance of all consequences to any other interests. Flying is a particular use of our individual liberties. To allow government to unfairly assign the price to access those liberties is to allow government to abridge our liberties.

  • I don’t object to paying for the services I use. The fuel tax seems to me to be the fairest way to charge for those services. The more I fly, the more I pay. Implementing user fees seems like it would be an administrative nightmare. Plus, I remember a proposal years ago that proposed a panel, dominated by the airlines, that would set the fees. That would have killed GA. Fuel taxes distribute the burden over all classes of aviation. Raise them if you must to cover costs, but no user fees.

  • I think you have hit the nail on the head. The User fee is targeted at corporate jets. In the grand scheme of things a $100 per flight divided up between the passengers on a 727 is nothing. The user fee is there to discourage corporate jet operations, plain and simple.

    My argument would be several points.

    1. Cost to collect and manage would use up too large of a percent of the proceeds to be worth while.

    2. Small Regional carriers already operate on a shoe string budget and a $100 fee per flight would without question impact safety. The salaries of the employees would decrease and the pilot pool over time would dwindle (faster than it is).

    3. You are right even though it exempts prop planes as of now, once the fee is there it will slowly cover all non military operations.

    4. The white houses argument that a fuel tax unfairly overcharges airlines is false. They use a much larger percentage of ATC. They make money from that operation. And many other reasons I’m sure will be pointed out.

    5. It would put the dream of flight further out of reach for those who are not independently wealthy. A reduction in the number of airplanes operating increases the per unit cost which would in the end push up costs for airlines.

    6. Aerospace is one of the last industry the USA leads in, any impact on the operation of this industry will knock us out of the lead.

    7. The reduction in the pilot pool will push up salaries increasing costs for the airlines.

    So a world with user fees will be one with a dying General Aviation sector, commuter trains replacing regional airlines, lower pilot standards due to the lack of training opportunities. And one more loss to the USA manufacturing and export economy.

    • I agree, the cost of collecting fuel taxes now is neglibile and is part of the routine of doing business. Collecting user fees will be much more complicated and problematic (how do you ensure that the N-number reporting-in to ATC is really that aircraft without a huge system of identity verification? It seems like the politicians’ favorite constituents not “the people”, but the civil service employees.

  • So many of today’s corporate pilots seldom come from the wealthier class. Much like a college education, flight education is being pushed out of the realm of so many by the incredible costs associated with obtaining an education.
    Consider the Universities, like Embry-Riddle, that provide career pilots to Aviation, GA and corporate alike. These Aviation educations are not cheap. Now, add $100 user fees per flight, and this makes obtaining professional credentials incredibly expensive and will destroy these programs.
    As so many have stated, a User Fee has a massive trickle down approach in GA/Corporate Aviation.
    Oh, let us not forget GA manufacturing and the associated industries it also supports. The recent recession has hobbled the MFG’s and the communities they reside in. Slowly but surely these industries are crawling back from a comatose state. Heck, let’s add a $100 fee per flight and punch the Aviation world in the face while it’s down and possibly put the final nail on the GA coffin.
    Aircraft owners, flight schools, and so many other Aviation related activities are already taxed so much. Isn’t that enough? Very few of those in GA are the 1%. The vast majority are those that eek out a small income on GA instruction and operations, and others are those that work long hours, and second jobs, just to afford a small dream of flying.
    If Congress and the White House are listening, the American dream of owning a home is on life support, lets not do the same to this dream as well….

  • I reject the premise that the fuel tax should be increased versus imposing user fees. AOPA uses this argument and it’s why I did not renew my 10 year old subscription.

    Accepting one tax for another is a net loss to the GA community; it will more owners to hang up there wings or laugh at the prospect of getting them.

    AOPA and the rest of us should be howling like effective special interests do (hello AOPA). Whatever your position on the matter, the Gay community is relatively small but you’d never know it because they are relentless and loud. Ditto global warming advocates.

    Conceding A in exchange for B, where B has the same effect is defeatist and plain dumb!

  • The proposed fee, as I understand it, states “turbine powered aircraft.” What, exactly then, is meant by a turbine powered aircraft? Does it mean turbojet aircraft, but not turboprops, or does it mean anything turbine powered? Or, worse yet, does it mean anything that runs on JET A rather than AvGas, or that runs on Diesel/truck gas? Engines such as Thielert engines run on JET A/truck diesel, but are not clearly not turbines, and are intended for firewall-forward upgrades for piston aircraft. Would such converted aircraft be included in the fee? What about engine X, to be developed 5 years from now, which is a new type of engine, but in a small way reminiscent of current turbines? Will it be included (and it chance for success be destroyed by fear of this fee, as bearucrats wrangle over definitions of things they know nothing about)? Or will the fee cover simply anything requiring a type rating due to being a turbofan? We all know what pilots mean when they talk about a turbine engine. But to politicians, turbine is just a word, and they could not explain the difference between the engines if their lives depended on it. Bottom line: with the definition of what is included as vague as in the current proposal, it could, without rewriting, be interpreted to include almost anything eventually.

  • Dave, I understand your concern about substituting one tax for another. There are two arguments in play, and you’re mixing them together, but your point deserves to be made. Argument 1: EVEN IF a good argument for more tax dollars can be made, the way to do this is not by building additional, expensive tax collection infrastructure. Argument 2: the gas tax is already providing aviation’s fair share of monies for ATC and other FAA infrastructure support. In support of Arg 2, note that the Aviation Trust Fund’s purpose has long been usurped for use within the General Fund. I view this as unethical business practice by Congress.

    I think we need to be careful about support for AOPA. They are far and away the most effective voice for us in Washington, DC. Disagree with them if your opinion differs from theirs, as vocally and as publicly as you like. However, my opinion: please continue to support them even if you have specific disagreements, we in aviation all need the support they are providing aviation.

  • I am not a smoker, but let me tell a story about the smokers in NY. A couple of years ago the taxes on cigarettes became the highest in the nation. The smokers were paying upwards of 9 dollars a pack. NY says they are trying to help which no- one actually believes. The black market, the indian reservations and the latest tax evasion trick is tobacco stores that roll the cigarettes for you. The point is that the more we are taxed the more people will find ways to evade the tax.
    The FAA’s job is to promote safety and training. Do think that would be in their best intrest when the Pilots and owners are trying to find ways to evade the extra costs.

  • Add me to the list of those opposed to user fees. The fuel tax is so much simpler and economical to collect. Ironically, the government would have collected a lot more money if they’d passed a FAA reauthorization seven years ago that included a raise in taxes on avgas and Jet A.

  • I am afraid that user fees are inevitable. The national debt is unimaginably high. If we get serious in addressing that debt, there are many services, formerly provided by government, for which we will have to pay directly.

    With the ever-increasing costs of fuel, regulation, certification, and litigation, I am not sure GA can survive it.

    However, if we do not address national debt issues, the expense of flying airplanes will be the least of our worries. This is not opinion, this is arithmetic.

    Trouble is, neither the President, nor the Presidential wanna-be’s are seriously addressing the problem.

    Certainly, we should resist user fees unless and until they are part of a concerted, integrated effort to balance the budget and stabilize our economy. The first step of that effort is for the public to believe that the politicians will really keep their word about where monies go.

    Unlikely.

  • Sounds like someone desires US airspace eventually to resemble airspace in Mexico. What to fly VFR? Then pay $##. Want an IFR flight plan? Then pony up $##.

  • Bill, I do not agree that user fees are inevitable for the simple reason that most realistic scenarios where user fees are enacted result in LESS, NOT MORE tax revenue from aviation. if user fees decimate GA then there is no tax base left. The airlines end up paying all they can pay. you can’t ask them for more because they go under. Trouble is the airlines don’t yet understand this.

    Waddaya say Dick, in other countries user fees have reduced the GA population. Wouldn’t they do so here, and leave the tax base decimated?

  • Bill Stowe, I think most here would agree that Aviation should and can pay for our resources however user fees will add unnecessary overhead and complexity. Unfortunately its safe to say that the funds would to cover other debts and not to Aviation resources anyways.

    I’m all for a balanced budget however you do that by cutting spending (real money not projected) and not by raising taxes. Of course this is an entirely different debate — one Washington has been unable and unwilling to solve.

  • User fees, as many have already mentioned, will be a huge hit to the GA community. Unfortunately congress and politicians in Washington do not know or fully understand what the impact will be. They are simply looking at ways to raise money to try to dig us out of the hole we are currently in with the economy. AOPA is our voice and support of AOPA is a proven way to get our voices heard. They are not an organization who burries their head in the sand but an organization that speaks the concerns of its members and speaks those concerns loudly. Fuel taxes and the eventual increase is the most cost effective and logical way to get more capital to the capitol.

  • The issue is much bigger than the user fees themselves. The real issue is the philosophy that the governments(s) use in these scenarios. Any user fee of any kind, regardless of how small, simply sets the stage (opens the door) to the government getting the fee structure established and then that structure will spiral out of control until we then are burdened with ever divergent fees and ever growing amounts. The original “plan” to ONLY charge $25.00 per flight plan was designed to do nothing more than establish a system and to then have their “foot in the door” to continue the ever upward spiral of addtional fees over time. Our Government, and most others, have in the past, and continue to this day, establish programs that promise a mouse fee that grows into an elepant over time. I absolutely dread the idea of allowing any type of “user fee” as it will do nothing more than “set the stage” for our uncontrolled legislators to then steal us blind…as they have proven in the past to be their mantra. Once this happens, we will need to have a memorial for GA in the United States at some not too distant point in the future.

  • I agree that flights will be more dangerous due to the avoidance of using ATC. I am a student pilot and I depend on flight following to help keep me and other pilots safe, if I am forced to pay user fees for this, then in the interest of safety, I would not fly.

    AOPA is a great resource for keeping Congress at bay from attaching user fees to prop aircraft, but as others have said, it is only a matter of time before it catches up with the prop planes.

  • When the Federal Government decided to take over aviation and regulate it,they are responsible for it and to pay for it. They already tax us with Av. gas and probably other forms of tax goes toward aviation regulation. Anything else is another layer of tax to which they are not entitled.

  • I am a student pilot. My last flight, practice area and pattern work cost $200 and I made 10 takeoffs and landings. If I had to pay $100 / landing, I would quit lessons.

    When I finish my airman’s cert. I hope to buy a plane. As long as user fees are being threatened, for anybody, I won’t risk buying a plane that five years from now, I likely won’t be able to fly or sell, because of user fees.

    The first flight that requires me to pay user fees will be either my last flight or a flight I will cancel and never take.

  • Absolutely not justified at all. Look what has happened in Europe, GA is virtually dead, only the super well-off can afford to fly something provides any level of utility inside the system known as ‘Eurocontrol’. Most have given up, some have fled to lightweight ‘toy’ planes that can’t be used for anything other than a trip ‘round the patch on a nice sunny day.
    It makes me mad to see what is being proposed, all being pushed by poorly run airlines who are busy chasing their peers to the bottom of the barrel and looking at any and all means to pass the buck. You just have to see how airlines are unbundling all their junk fees in order to give a headline cost for a flight which easily turns out to cost $100 more by the time all the fees are added on.
    Look, it’s quite simple – we already have a fair and low cost (to operate) way to collect tax that is directly related to how much flying you do – it’s called the fuel tax and it works. Why on earth do we need to break that? What the heck is wrong with that? The development of a whole new layer of government fed employees and rules to collect this tax would never pay for itself, so justifying an increasing scope and level of user fee costs to justify its existence. In these supposedly frugal times we need to be looking at ways of removing layers of government, not adding more to break a perfectly working system.
    The day I have to pay directly into a fee based system just to file or fly IFR is the day I will give up on GA, totally, utterly and completely. Perhaps that is what ‘they’ really want, I don’t understand any more what direction this country is going, I really truly don’t….

  • Call it what you want but, the user fee is just another tax. We are already taxed to death. (25% of GNP goes to taxes in the US)

    It would without a doubt detract from flight safety because people will try to find ways to avoid the fee/taxes by not using the system.

    More government jobs would have to be created to administer and collect the fees. (They probably like that idea.) The net financial “benefit” to the country is questionable.

    Every pilot and every airplane owner in the country will vote against any politician who votes for “user fees.”

    The aviation community will let it be known on every media outlet that will send the message that if the aviation community can be demonized and punitively taxed then so could any other group of easy target citizens.

    Mr. Orwell, are you listening to this?

  • Everything mentioned above is true. But what concerns me the most as a general aviation pilot. Many GA pilots will not only fly less but will also cause them to contact ATC less.
    The huge downside besides safety is in a few years the big user payers will be able to put teeth in their argument that GA needs to be highly restricted and/or eliminated. This along with the increased use of unmanned aircraft will put much pressure on GA.

  • Double taxes, sure thing. Really?

    Here an angle you might consider.

    The thing that really scares me is the safety implication. I know that vast majority of people I talk to about this admit (off the record) they might not file when they should to avoid the fee. I fly back and forth between Boeing Field and the San Juan Islands a couple times a week. Many times one or more of the weather zones isn’t going to be friendly. Passable, sure. Legal, barely. A great idea? How about if everybody started scud runs around weather? I can see pilots asking if $100 fee is worth it for a 40 minute flight. A dangerous question. The number of accidents will sky rocket. And, IMC accidents are death.

  • I don’t think I can add much to what others have said. In my opinion once any new tax is placed on avaition, even if just initially on turbine aircraft, it will be just step one to those taxes or user fees being placed on all GA aircraft/operations. It will never go away and will, in my opinion, lead to the eventual demise of GA. Current fuel costs as well as other related expenses have curtailed many of us aircraft owners who fly for the pleasure of it. Where would the next generation of pilots come from. We must defeat this proposal.

  • User fees no! We already pay taxes for the services the user fees are supposed to pay for. Does any clown in Washington think about the unintended consequences? Pilots flying less; less practice-the erosion of critical skills; more people willing to press the margins of safety, particularly in marginal weather, safety obviously not a consideration. Face it, obama and his administration do understand AG, they think we are simply rich folks because we own or fly airplance–THEY DO NOT CARE. We are in a fight and if you are not on your state and national politicians frrequently you are part of the problem.

    Next Gen ATC is being forced on everyone and it is not ready for primetime–FAA is behind and they are the only ones who the administration listens too for policy advice. The congress is where we must fight the battle. We pay our taxes, lets insist we get out services. Lastly, ATC and an ATC system is a national security asset and we need to alresdy are paying for it!! Quitting is not a real option because that means we lose, our communities lose, and ultimately America loses!

  • This is a bit like preaching to the choir….but here goes….. I flew in Canada last August.. all the fees were paid with a credit card…not terribly expensive…but they billed me, then billed me again which says to me that they don’t have their ducks in a row for efficiency… but

    I think that safety is the victim of this payer proposal and the small fees now will become greater and greater.

    This is asituation where all of us, as pilots, should be in constant touch with our congress persons and senators… “NO USER FEES….!

  • Worst Case. I fly Young Eagles. Proposed user fee $100 per flight. Plane rental $150 an hour. 5 flights $800. NO FLY!
    Next Case. User fee for using controller. Fly around, below, above controlled airspace. Don’t file flight plan. Don’t use the system. Safety just went down the tube.

  • Most/all of the comments are using logic as their approach. I wish it were tha simple; I think that it isn’t.
    Our present administration has a value system that wants to reward non-success by punishing success. IE: rob from the rich and give to the poor.
    To facilitate this, they paint success in derogatory terms, such as “fat cat”. The solution to this problem isn’t logic; it’s a new administration.

  • No way to user fees. The president cannot be ignorant of what user fees have done to GA in other countries. He also cannot be ignorant of how many jobs depend on GA. We have fought this fight with him before. Therefore, he cannot be ignorant of the safety risk user fees bring as pilots try to avoid them. He also knows that once user fees are brought to bear on one segment of GA, all GA will eventually be included.

    You would think that the jobs put at risk by user fees would be enough to give the president pause. It is also well known that whatever projections the president has been given about the amount of revenue user fees would bring in, they will never realize that level of revenue. Because those revenues will not meet projections, the fees will be increased and spread across a wider swath of GA. The bureaucracy put in place to track and collect those fees will soak up most of the revenues collected with hardly any gain to the general fund.

    User fees are a disincentive to fly. Many pilots will just quit altogether. Others will shirk safe practices in order to avoid them. However, we have to be careful what we ask for instead of user fees. High fuel cost also drives less flying which in turn means less revenues from the fuel taxes meant to fund the FAA. To say that we will embrace higher fuel taxes is disingenuous. There is a limit to how much pilots are willing to pay for fuel in order to fly. We already have seen the effect higher fuel prices have had on flying activity. Business flyers will fly anyway. Those who fly for pleasure will curtail their flying to the detriment of their flying skills. It must be shown that GA is no cash cow willing to be gored by user fees. The US is unique in the world where GA has unfettered access to the NAS. Pilots in other nations envy us our freedom to fly without user fees.

    I pay a yearly fee for access to the state parks in both Maryland and Delaware. I get a tag that I hang on my mirror. This allows me to sail right by the toll booth. It also allows me to use all of the boat launch ramps in each state. Might this be a better way to go about increasing funding to the FAA. A yearly fee would be paid whether you fly or not. So it should not be a disincentive to fly. It would not need an entire new bureaucracy to collect this fee either. Avgas prices have climbed enough all by themselves. If we have to pay a fee at all, I would rather pay a yearly (reasonable) one rather than an ala cart fee every time I fly.

    We must encourage the Congressional coalition on GA. We have to let our congressmen and senators know that we are displeased by user fees being imposed on GA.

    • I totally agree with the above comment. As a student pilot, on a tight budget, I will have to give up even more time to get my certificate because of cost.

  • No is no! No user fees, no new taxes! AOPA and the GA community should not back down. It hinders on the pursuit of happiness.. how’s that for justification! Funny, why does happiness have to be justified?

  • User fees are devil tools. Aviation has been developped and promoted by risk takers and none governmental people. This is why flying has evolved so much until the crisis of 1982 greatly helped by greedy lawyers and theist frivolous lawsuits against aviation. After this government has put their claws into the system. But with all government effort to distroy aviation and freedom they have not completely succeeded. Some continue to resist the dictate by flying and leaving and adventurous and risk taking life. Government does not want this, they think that they know better and want to protect us against ourselves. User fees is the most dangerous legal attempt and more devious one to distroy completely our freedom to fly. As mentioned before flying has greatly advanced because of the sacrifice of private individuals (non public individuals) who risk everything to give us the world and freedom that we use to have but that has greatly diminish by governmental actions and laws passing. In the good old days, flyers were not the wealthy type, they were adventurous and risking their lives (not compatible with greed). Governments over the years have changed this by passing multiple and not needed laws that made aviation accessible to only people with money. The target for government is now easier to catch. This is specially true in Socialist Europe where people with airplane are constantly targetted

  • User fees are devil tools. Aviation has been developped and promoted by risk takers and none governmental people. This is why flying has evolved so much until the crisis of 1982 greatly helped by greedy lawyers and theist frivolous lawsuits against aviation. After this government has put their claws into the system. But with all government effort to distroy aviation and freedom they have not completely succeeded. Some continue to resist the dictate by flying and leaving and adventurous and risk taking life. Government does not want this, they think that they know better and want to protect us against ourselves. User fees is the most dangerous legal attempt and more devious one to distroy completely our freedom to fly. As mentioned before flying has greatly advanced because of the sacrifice of private individuals (non public individuals) who risk everything to give us the world and freedom that we use to have but that has greatly diminish by governmental actions and laws passing. In the good old days, flyers were not the wealthy type, they were adventurous and risking their lives (not compatible with greed). Governments over the years have changed this by passing multiple and not needed laws that made aviation accessible to only people with money. The target for government is now easier to catch. This is specially true in Socialist Europe where people with airplane are constantly targeted with new taxes. Being taxed at the pump is the fairest of all system live VAT taxes, easily collected and pushing people to use the system. User fees if passed will mean end of freedom and general aviation as we know it. People will fly lot less and AOPA strength will diminished, and freedom completely eliminated. Maybe that is what lawyers and government are after. This will mean the beginning of the end.

  • The fuel tax is the way to go to keep the aviation highway consistent with the land and water highways. Look at how the interstate system is supposed to be maintained – through a tax on auto gas. Yes, the feds may not be getting enough money right now but that is because of the increased efficiency of engines that the fed itself mandated. Just fix the gas tax and they’ll have more, and I for one know that it’s better to pay a little more for gas for my car to avoid potholes in the road. Same for the waterways. Pay a fuel tax when you go to a marina and you have money for someone to maintain the buoys and such on the waterways. The airways are the same as the land and water ways. Pay a tax when you fuel up and bingo, that tax is supposed to pay for the service we receive when flying the airways.

    But in exchange for all the fuel taxes, I expect efficiency in their use, and want them to go only toward the use for which they were intended. No raiding the trust fund to pay for someone’s healthcare, no allowance of inefficient use of the funds, and keep the tax in line with current needs.

  • I should paint my plane ($11,000) but I won’t because the values are dropping. The spector of UF’s and other high costs reduces value. I have the money for upgrades but won’t spend it because there may be no return.

    Also, people think pilots are against paying UF’s because we aren’t contributing our fair share. Most of the public never thinks about our gas taxes where we pay more than our fair share.

    It’s not UF’s we are against is is MORE UF’s.

  • What would be next, a user fee for talking to flight service? Has everyone forgotten about that one? It was a proposal a while back and could be ushered back in if this nonsense is ever passed. We are already taxed to death in general aviation as it is. It won’t take much more to break us completely.

  • Dr. Nolde, you have added a subtlety to the argument that I appreciate. Less safety, skills degradation, hence need for further regulation. Well done.

    David, I believe the President can indeed be ignorant of what user fees have done in other countries. Look at the completely ignorant letter written to all of us who signed the petition. They choose not to know.

    Bob, Privatized ATC System? Private firm governance is via competition. How would that work? If no competition then privatization is probably worse. Would we pay for a privatized system using something other than a user fees, something that would promote rather than degrade safety? These questions are part of how we got to a government based ATC system in the first place. If you can answer them better than we did in the ’50s, then maybe we have a good idea here.

    But you’re right, this issue has arisen in multiple administrations, and been beaten down by multiple Congresses. Never been clear to me why the public and Congress have been unable to make a clearly unpopular proposal go away.

  • I fly a Remos GX when I can afford lessons and see the wide disparity in wealth between those who fly in luxury aircraft and most other people. We need to fix misunderstandings about Class E Airspace for example. But, I think rich folks could and should pay higher fees.

  • If you look at the “Federal Aviation Act” of 1958, that formed the Federal Aviation Agency (later Administation), it was done “in the public interest.” Simply, if it is in the public interest then the public should pay for it!

    That my friends, is the best argument. It has worked for 54 years, and is still the top impediment to user fees…

  • This is equivelent to making all highways and roads toll roads. If we have to pay for everything, then what exactly are the taxes we already pay for? Maybe the top ten airports in the country should charge a landing fee, but to make all airports charge landing fees is crazy.

  • As a student pilot on a shoestring budget, user fee’s will totally be a wipe out when it comes to future flight training. I am against them, for the same reasons stated earlier, to split it for the 200+ people on a commercial flight is one thing, to have the same thing on a 152 flying to get the “$100 hamburger” is totally uncalled for. Fuel tax is understandable, the more you use, the more you pay. Which, in my opinion, is high enough already. 🙂
    We want to see more student pilots…..that’s going to get even less affordable with the Obama Admin. user fee’s to pay for a debt we didn’t want in the first place….:-)

  • Of course I’m opposed to user fees.

    The best argument against them, at least as far as politicians are concerned, is you get what you reward. Now, we pay for the ATC system by fuel taxes. Since we’re paying for it anyway, why not use it wherever possible? (To a politician, air traffic “control” = “safety”. Do not disabuse them of this for the purposes of this discussion). If a pilot has to pay for using flight following or entering a controlled airport vs an “uncontrolled” airport (scary, that, to a politician), they’re rewarded for avoiding the ATC system.

    Do NOT make the “user fees require new government employees to collect the fees” argument. Politicians LOVE government employees. The more employees, the more their power.

  • Fuel taxes and registration fees work ok in the ground and aviation world. But wait, there are proposals to create a user fee system for ground based transportation. It seems that as our cars and trucks become more efficiant the greedy bastards don’t think they will have enough money to waste. User fees would kill personal ground and airborne transport.

  • Of course the government wants more money. It’s what it exists for. Problem is – all this will do is create a huge new bureaucracy which will need employees and buildings and computers and more staff and travel and per diem and meetings and more budget. It won’t be self sustaining so it will required more money from the tax roll so it will continue to consume as it grows uncontrollably until the there is nothing left of of the group it is supposed to support. Then the government will have to support it through the general fund and we will have a net loss. Except there will be more GS9 employees getting checks. I worked for uncle sam and that is how it goes. What kills me here is that we already have an efficient program in place to do this!!!

  • This issue embraces the future of our republic.
    We exist because our Forefathers refused to pay unjustifed taxes. Some people have tried to cut the growth of Goverment by cutting taxes. The result was more debt then the USA has ever had. My oldest son said once “Wait till they start taxing your favorite things.”. The point he was making was no-one said anything when they taxed Cigarettes because few people smoked. Now it is on us! Maybe next time someone complains about their situation we should listen. No matter how much money (taxes) we give goverment they will want more. They keep their power using our hard earned money to buy votes. Take it one step further: Business is moving off-shore to save on production costs. The source of tax (business) leaves and they want everyone else to pay for their mismanagement.

  • The US airspace system was a grand experiment to create a transportation system in which there would be an airplane in every garage and they mix freely but safely with the buses (airlines). I think we are seeing that it is not working out that way. It blossomed into a hugely expensive traffic control system designed to protect the airlines and lets GA ride on the coattails as long as they don’t interfere too much. The bizjets are starting to interfere too much so they have become a target. I think our best bet is to duck behind the bunkers and let the rich guys fight it out with the airlines and the controllers union to reduce the cost of the system.

    For GA, the fuel taxes are a known method that seems to work fairly painlessly, but I suspect, do not come close to covering all the “services”. The big advantage is that it is basically hidden so people don’t think about it when paying. So why add a visible tax that incites ugly thoughts every time it is charged? Even politicians ought to be able to figure that one out.

    I’m not sure that there is an argument against extra fees; if you want to fly like the airlines, then you get to pay like the airlines.

  • The US airspace system was a grand experiment in which it was envisioned that there would be n airplane in every garage and that they would mix freely with the buses (airlines). I think we know now that it didn’t work out like that. It blossomed into an expensive radar based, controllers union operated, system for the airlines with GA being tolerated as long as they didn’t interfere too much. The bizjets started to interfere too much and now are a target of opportunity which resonates with the Obama class warfare theme.

    Fuel tax has worked for two reasons:
    1) It is hidden so one doesn’t think about it when paying.
    2) It doesn’t come close to paying the cost, so it seems cheap enough.

    There is no logical reason to add another fee which will incite riotous thoughts every time it is charged. Even politicians should be able to figure that out.

    I don’t see much good argument against increased taxation, whether fuel or fees, if we cling to the existing system. If you want to fly like the airlines you’re going to pay like the airlines. A better solution would be to change to a more efficient system and this is possible.

  • Puts me one step closer to selling my standard category airplane and buying an LSA kit plane. Use car gas, stay away from ATC. Other financial incentives too.
    Probably be more fun to fly an LSA anyway. Less utility but more fun. I can get behind that.
    Makes me glad that I did a lot of flying in the 70’s and 80’s. I had to sacrifice other things but my spirit thrived.

    Long Live General Aviation!

  • OK – so if you want to really send a message on this topic to the ones in Washington DC , organize a single day for every GA pilot to e-mail their own congressman and senators. If AOPA, GAMA and the rest of the alphabet orgs will target a date certain especially if it has some specific significance, then a message gets across. If it is random rants and complaints, then nothing is felt. As 200 – 400,000 pilots, all at one time, we have a voice.

  • Bonehead idea from our bonehead president. Even worse than the fees, is the new bureaucracy the fees will create. Which in turn will create the need for yet more new fees.

  • The really disturbing aspect of this plan is that the Obama administration is approaching this like a “sin” tax. Flying is not morally equivalent to smoking, or drinking, nor is it a luxury like yachting.

    The fact is that the Obama administration is looking for a headline. Raising the avgas tax won’t play nearly as well with his constituents as successfully creating a new tax to stick it to the “rich” so they can pay their “fair share”. Unfortunately, Obama is willing to sacrifice GA to pander to his voting base.

    I understand that AOPA and EAA need to maintain good working relations with the ruling party as well as the opposition, so publicly opposing Obama’s re-election is not an option. However, every AOPA and EAA member needs to recongize Obama for the threat he is, and should work to ensure Obama doesn’t get a second term.

  • We have a President and an administration that admittedly, and proudly, want to make the U.S. more like Europe. Killing General Aviation, which will without question follow quickly and directly from imposing user fees, is but one more small step forward toward their ideological goal of making our country into another Euro-Social(ist) society.

  • I would argue that there already is a user fee — it is the fuel tax. The more fuel used, generates more revenue. What appears lost in the conversation is that since 2008 the United States has seen a significant economic down turn that almost parrallels the Great Depression. The result has been a reduction of use of GA since the economy has been put into a tail spin, so to speak. With an up-tick in the economy, there will be an increase in GA and more revenues.

  • The introduction of ‘Privatisation’ of our infrastructure, including airports and Air Services, by various Govts in Australia, and the subsequent policy of ‘User Pays’ has ‘decimated’ G/A in AUS.

    Prior to this, such services were funded by a relatively small tax on fuel.

    This tax was ‘dropped’, fees for services introduced, and – guess what – eventually, the fuel tax was introduced again!

    To land a C172 at my local City ‘Secondary’ airport now costs AUD $29.60!

    These ‘USER PAYS’ fees are seen by the Industry generally, as simply a covert form of taxation of ‘The Rich’, i.e. Those who can afford to fly aircraft must be rich!!

    Unfortunately, this has affected many Bush Charter companies, Flying Training Schools, etc all trying to eek out a living.
    Many have ‘gone to the wall’, and its NOT all ‘GFC’ induced.

    This ‘Tax’ is to be avoided like the plague that it is.

    My ‘2 Bob’s Worth’……

  • I have been flying in Australia at least twice yearly for the last 5 years. There are many pilots that do not call for wx briefing. Enroute communications or IFR clearances due to the fees for all services. A wx briefing could be as little as 50 cents. Going into Class C airspace and land/take off could be as much as $20 or more. This is plus the airport landing fee. IFR enroute 100nm with navaids and communication may reach $100. These are a major deterent to the growth of General Aviation/Personal flying.

  • Myron sez, “These are a major deterent to the growth of General Aviation/Personal flying.”

    BINGO! We have to realize that our present US administration is not attempting to raise revenue – he is attempting to cripple General Aviation. Once we realize that fact, we can address the correct target and ignore the red herring of increased revenue.

  • I have mixed views on the subject of user fees. A safe and efficient aviation system is in everybody’s best interests. Clearly, modernizing our antiquated system will cost more than the current revenue stream provided by aviation fuel taxes can support. The real question is whether the benefits of the aystem are important enough for broad support from the tax base, or specialized enough to warrent use taxes.

    Aviation services are not used by all pilots and all aircraft equally. One of the most expensive aspects of the federal airspace revolves around the manpower and technology resources applied to management of instrument flights. Recreational flyers that take off and land at uncontrolled aiports in VFR weather don’t drive the cost of maintaining that system. I am coming to believe that the base capability of the system should be funded through fuel taxes, but access to more comprehensive services could be accessed through a sliding scale of user fees. An analogy might be the highway system. There are roads that are used by everyone that are supported through fuel taxes going to the highway fund. There are also special use roads that require users to pay a toll for access.

    The idea that individuals would not access the services that require a fee is easily managed by the weather and altitude you fly at. To fly when weather is below VFR minimums, or to fly above 18,000 feet requires an IFR flight plan and access to the additional capabilities that use fees could cover. VFR pilots operating from uncrontolled airports would only use weather services and other features of the airspace system covered by general use fuel taxes. I fly in both worlds. I don’t want my $100 hamburger to cost more than that when I am flying VFR between small fields adjacent to a decent restaurant. I also want the best service avaiable when I fly IFR and am completely reliant on the technology and capable staff of the enroute air traffic control system. I’m willing to pay more when accessing that additional level of support just as I am willing to pay more to drive on a toll road to shorten my commute during rush hour. I am not interested in paying more for antiquated systems operated by overworked, or undertrained professionals. If use fees are added, I would expect the best that money can buy in terms of the support I received.

    • Very thoughtful analysis, Gary. I agree that user fees make sense – in theory. We should pay for the services we use. But it’s how user fees would be implemented in practice that worries me. For example, if the airlines have a big say in how fees are charged (as was once proposed), I’m afraid GA would be asked to carry an unfair burden. If the government can use the fees for purposes other than aviation, that’s a problem too.

      There’s another argument against user fees that the AOPA and other lobbying groups have used for decades. It’s this: if it weren’t for all the airline traffic, GA wouldn’t need all the sophisticated, expensive ATC services, so why should we have to pay for them. For example, I base my airplane at the nearest airport to my home. It happens to be a Class B airline hub. I take off on a very expensive 10,000 foot runway but I only need 2,000 feet and it could be grass for all I care. Also, if it weren’t for the airlines we wouldn’t even need a tower. Why should I be forced to pay for it? There are some flaws to this argument, but it’s one that’s been used by GA organizations since I started flying in the ’60’s.

      This is an interesting subject with no easy answers.

  • It will mean a loss in revenue because of the infrastructure that would have to be put in place to collect the fees.
    People will fly less (maybe thats the intent with this administration) or avoid using ATC services.
    All around bad idea, we have the best ATC why mess with it?

  • Like everyone else, I am tired of the government placing a piggy bank at every turn. In the larger scheme of things, our representation to fight such charges is thru AOPA. As a result of our dues, they places themselves as our savior in these matters. My problem with this is they continue to ask for more money to fight the “good fight”, however a review of their financials shows approximately $70 million in investments sitting on their ledger sheet. Why don’t they take some of this money and really fight the fight?? I have said this many times and no one seems to share my view. We cannot fight this alone. Craig Fuller’s sending the message to us pilots is preaching to the choir. AOPA needs to fight this fight in Washington with us behind them.

  • I firmly beleive that the fuel tax is the only fair way to pay our share without adding another tax collection agency. But, I also beleive that the aviation fuel tax needs to be increased. When was the last time it was raised? The cost of everything has gone up but the tax has not. That is unrealistic. I also beleive that the tax should not be dumped into the General Fund but used only within the FAA, I know, that is unrealistic also.

  • A 747 from LAX to SFO pays more than a Citation on the same route because the FAA is providing service for 400 people in the 747, and six in the Citation. It should be more, and the current fuel tax handles the calculation just fine.

    User Fees have nothing to do with making it fair for airliners. User Fees have everything to do with attacking rich, private airplane owners in the interest of social and economic justice, regardless of consequences.

    • John sez: “User Fees have nothing to do with making it fair for airliners. User Fees have everything to do with attacking rich, private airplane owners in the interest of social and economic justice, regardless of consequences.”

      BINGO! It stems from a thought pattern that some groups is the ‘downbeaten poor’, and the ‘rich’ should be attacked to pay them back.

      Arguing this issue with logic is a waste of time. The counterattack must hit the emotional part of the situation to address it properly.

  • Kayak Jack has it right. They want it this way. Remember to make serious change you have to vote. I will definitely not miss administration.

  • The issue of user fees is symptomatic of a much deeper and troubling trend in our country towards a big government evermore greedily devouring more and more money and gaining more and more control over our daily activities. General aviation represents the Canary in the coal mine, once the flourishing bloom of an exceptional country now Learjets are openly criticized as targets by the highest levels in governmE

  • Naturally I am totally against user fees – fuel prices are already sky high and putting a crimp on my flying. BUT, here are a few thoughts:
    – We have to face the music and recognize that this is a political battle, not a rational one. The three main threads of arguments presented so far in the responses: (a) safety, (b) actually costing more to administer, and (c) devastation of GA are perfectly rational, but unfortunately irrelevant. This is a matter of government posturing, showing the population at large that they are going to make people pay for what they use. And let’s face it, there are a heck of a lot of citizens out there who think that GA is a totally useless waste of money and the privilege of the fat cats.
    – That being said, we have to admit that our fuel taxes do not nearly cover the costs of ATC, airport upkeep, modernization, R&D, administration, and all of the other myriad things that are needed for us to be able to fly. If we were to have to pay the real price, none of us would be flying.
    – Come to think of it, if the airlines were to have to pay the real cost, we wouldn’t be flying from LA to Chicago for $200, and we probably would be taking a bus from Little Rock to New Orleans. So there’s a lot of subsidy for aviation in general from the General Budget.
    – Before we go demonizing the Obama administration, remember that user fees have been a hot topic for at least 10 if not 15 years. So this isn’t the brainstorm of some idiotic Democrat government. We’ve been lucky and have dodged the bullet a number of times so far. Most probably in the previous cases just the fact that the proposal was raised gave enough political credit to the then-in-power administration that it could concede to the rational arguments and didn’t actually have to go through with it.

    But what if we do get hammered with user fees and a flight in controlled airspace to a towered airport costs us $200 on top of fuel and insurance and rental? Unlike Europe, America is a big country, with plenty of open space and uncontrolled airspace. So I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can certainly picture myself quite enjoying living in Montana or Kansas with a beat up Super Cub and having to fly 500 miles to hit a Class B. It might just take us back to the GA days of the 30’s, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

  • This occurred to me last night. IFR user fees would be similar to getting rid of the extra 5-10 cents tax per gallon you pay for diesel and charging over the road trucks a fee every-time they are issued a manifest or go through a weigh station. The same problems would arise, sure the people in small diesel cars and trucks wouldn’t be paying the extra tax intended to target commercial traffic but they would have to charge 2-3 times more to cover the overhead of managing this. Could you imagine the reaction and opposition this create. Truckers/owners are seen as the “every day joe” but aircraft owners are seen as “the rich” but there are many of us making closer to the truckers wages than the presidents scrapping buy to live dream of flight.

    I still think we should be simplifying the ways we pay taxes in all areas of our life and not complicating them.

  • Ok we all (except Bill) agree user fees are a curse to our freedom and safety, dreamt up by elitists who actively ignore logic while seeking control. We need a stronger voice from those affected: every student, GA renter, GA owner, 135 operator, fractional operator, alphabet organization, state government aviation agency and yes airline(s). We need a truly diverse union of aviation interests brought together to FIGHT user fees, except the only logical user fee – fuel tax. Besides these web sites, the only concentrated effort seems to be from AOPA reaching out to politicians. Of course this is critical, but more is needed fellow aviators. How to get the public aware: free rides (by us), press rides, our loss of freedom becomes your loss argument. And yes safety – possible injunctions and lawsuits by various flight schools and other users showing statistical arguements for reduced safety in reduced concentrated airspaces throughout the country due to new user fee airspaces being created to serve whom? Lets help ourselves – no one else will. captainsvc@optonline.net

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