Congressional Committee Hears Opposition to User Fees

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), conducted a hearing titled User Fees in the Aviation Industry: Turbulence Ahead. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the financial impact of additional user fees on small businesses within the aviation industry, and the message that user fees is a bad idea was sent loud and clear.

In his fiscal year 2013 budget, President Barack Obama proposed creating a $100 per flight fee, payable to the Federal Aviation Administration, by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace. The general aviation community is predominately made up of small businesses, and the hearing examined whether the fee would stifle job creation and growth within the industry.

The witnesses included Martha King, the co-founder of King Schools.

“We are counting on you to spread the word,” King told members of Congress, “per-flight fees destroy.” King emphasized the general aviation community’s long-held position that the “pay-at-the-pump” fuel tax is the most efficient, least burdensome way for the general aviation community, which includes companies of all sizes that use an airplane for business, to help pay for operation of the nation’s air transportation system.

“As you know, general aviation is one of our nation’s most significant industries,” she testified, noting that in recent years, the economic recession has taken a heavy toll on general aviation. “While things have stabilized somewhat, we have yet to approach anything near our 2007 or 2008 levels. King Schools has not been spared from the impact,” she said, reporting that her company, which had 70 employees in 2007, had reduced in size to 50 employees in 2012.

“It is difficult to imagine how, at a time when a critical American industry is struggling the way general aviation is, people in Washington could be contemplating an onerous, regressive and administratively burdensome new, per-flight tax euphemistically called a ‘user fee,’” she said.

Other witnesses included Marian Epps, chief financial officer for Epps Aviation in Atlanta, Ga., a member company of the Aircraft Electronics Association. “In a time when general aviation businesses are looking to spur economic and job growth, the imposition of a user fee would decimate small businesses around the country that depend on general aviation,” Epps said. “User fees would also be detrimental to many states with little or no commercial airline service where general aviation plays an integral economic role. User fees would significantly impede general aviation in the United States for a variety of reasons, including a reduction in general aviation activity and the imposition of an onerous administrative burden as user bills are typically generated after the flight.”

Committee chairman Graves, a pilot and co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, introduced into the record a letter opposing the user fee concept signed by 195 members of Congress.

"The general aviation industry is predominantly made up of small businesses,” Graves said. “Annually, it accounts for about 27 million flight hours and carries 166 million passengers to around 5,000 communities. According to the National Air Transportation Association, more than two-thirds of general aviation flights are for business purposes. Overall, general aviation – both operations and manufacturing – employs about 1.2 million people and contributes approximately $150 billion to our gross domestic product. Bottom line, general aviation is a significant part of our national economy. Imposing a $100 per flight user fee on operators is simply the wrong approach. The president offered few details as to how such a system would be established and even less analysis of how it would impact the aviation industry. I believe this is bad policy, and there is little doubt it would stifle job creation and economic growth in the United States. I would also like to remind my colleagues of the broad and bipartisan opposition from Congress to the president’s proposal and ask unanimous consent that this letter, signed by 195 members of Congress, expressing concerns be submitted into the record.”