- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The trade group representing the nation’s largest commercial airlines yesterday argued that companies operating business jets should pay an additional $1 billion to fund the nation’s air transportation system.

James May, president and chief executive of the Air Transport Association, said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should jettison fuel and ticket taxes in favor of fees based on the number of departures and length of flights.

That would dramatically increase the amount paid by noncommercial corporate jets, which the FAA predicts will fill the skies at an alarming rate as manufacturers produce smaller, cheaper planes.

“What we have today simply isn’t going to work in the future,” Mr. May said. “There is a very real need to make changes.”

Fees paid into the Aviation Trust Fund should more closely reflect how heavily carriers use the air transportation system, he said.

Companies flying business jets paid $422 million in taxes to the Aviation Trust Fund in fiscal 2004. That represented 4.4 percent of the $9.57 billion collected that year, but those planes accounted for 15 percent of flights.

Commercial carriers paid $8.98 billion in taxes that year. That represented 94 percent of fuel and ticket taxes collected, while commercial carriers accounted for 69 percent of flights.

If business jets funded 15 percent of the cost of the air traffic control system to match its use of the system in fiscal 2004, it would have forked over $1.43 billion.

Commercial airlines initiated what is likely to be a lengthy and bitter debate over how to fund the FAA. The airlines pre-empted the Transportation Department, which expects to complete its own proposal to fund the FAA by the end of the month.

“We reject user fees,” said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, which represents companies that fly their own aircraft. “The size and scope and complexity and cost of the air transportation system today is directly dictated by the commercial carriers.”

Mr. Bolen said business jets should continue to fund the air transportation system through fuel taxes because that fee closely approximates the demand those planes place on the system.

Peter Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said commercial airlines are engaged in an “unconscionable strategy” to shift the cost of operating the air transportation system onto others.

“I think the airlines are trying to shed legitimate costs that are theirs,” he said.

The Bush administration on Tuesday ruled out sweeping user fees on general aviation to help maintain the air traffic control system and help pay for new runways and other aviation programs.

The FAA relies on a 7.5 percent ticket tax and 4.3 percent fuel tax to fund the agency, but that formula expires next year. FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey has said she wants to create a new formula for collecting money because the current method doesn’t provide a stable funding source.

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