“It’s like going out to dinner, and somebody buys the most expensive stuff and then says, ‘Hey, let’s divide this up among all the diners,’ ” he said. “Who should pay for that?”
Commercial airlines support the proposed changes and say private aviation has been collecting huge taxpayer handouts that should go to airports that serve the general public.
“We’re saying users should pay in proportion to their share of system use,” said Mr. Heimlich, of the Air Transport Association. “The current system isn’t priced rationally.”
The scrutiny from lawmakers is takng place ahead of a planned overhaul of the nation’s aging air-transit system. Air traffic is predicted to grow by more than 25 percent over the next decade, and analysts say the growth will be driven by a proliferation of smaller passenger planes and private jets.
The ambitious overhaul will replace existing ground-based radar with satellites and is expected to cost at least $22 billion.
The FAA’s poor track record of containing costs is well-documented. For example, in 2003, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, reported the agency’s ongoing efforts to modernize air-traffic control and found the price tag had reached $35 billion — nearly three times the original estimate of $12 billion when the project began in 1981. Much of that money also came directly from airline passengers in the form of ticket taxes.
“Then was then, now is now,” said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, adding that Mrs. Blakey has drastically tightened FAA financial management since becoming agency administrator in 2002. “The way we manage programs is dramatically different.”
A former Pennsylvania congressman, James Coyne, now president of the National Air Transportation Association, said that doesn’t negate the fact that the federal government has squandered aviation money over the past two decades.
“Certainly billions of dollars were wasted because of mismanagement,” said Mr. Coyne, whose group represents charter, tour and commuter-aviation operators and opposes eliminating passenger taxes. “Now, there must be some accountability.”
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