Small Airports Wary Of Proposed User Fee

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Union County Airport Manager Ed Rusch inspects a plane owned by the Civil Air Patrol. If the proposed fee is approved, planes like this one would have to pay an additional $100 for every flight that takes place in controlled air space.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)
Union County Airport Manager Ed Rusch inspects a plane owned by the Civil Air Patrol. If the proposed fee is approved, planes like this one would have to pay an additional $100 for every flight that takes place in controlled air space.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)

In the proposed budget for the Federal Aviation Administration next year, the Obama administration is asking for a $100 per-flight user fee on nearly every commercial flight in controlled airspace. It’s been denounced by the airline industry, but the proposal is especially concerning for pilots and operators at small regional airports.

“This is a 1972 Bellanca Super Viking,” says Ed Rusch, the manager of the Union County Airport in Marysville, as he walks through the airport hanger.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

“All of the gadgetry that you see on the panel there — all the knobs and buttons and such — it makes this airplane capable to operate within the Air Traffic Control system,” Rusch says.

And that means it will be subject to the new fee. Rusch says $100 per-flight will add up quickly for planes like the Bellanca that are used regularly.

Well, if you consider they go once a week. They have to go out and they have to come back, so that’s $10,400 a year. If they operate in the system.

If they operate in the system, Rusch says, because the new fee could push pilots to skirt the law.

The FAA permits flights without notice during good weather conditions, but requires pilots to report takeoffs and landings when conditions worsen.

“If you are forced in inclement weather to file a flight plan and work with the FAA in the Air Traffic Control system and it costs you an extra $100, there are going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to do that. They’re just going to take off.”

The FAA and the White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but the budget proposal says the fee is intended to better distribute the cost of air traffic services. The agency says it’s essential for those who benefit from our world-class aviation system help pay for it.

Selana Shilad is Executive Director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a trade group that represents smaller airport like Union County. They oppose the fee because she says airports and companies that drive the industry already pay more than their fair share.

“It would be very detrimental to them, particularly during an economic downturn, in terms of the extra tax burden, but also because of the additional administrative burden that it would levy open them.”

Shilad says the fee would apply to more than just small commercial aviation, but even smaller businesses like some crop dusters and surveying businesses.

It would apply to flight schools, businesses, and a lot of different operators, including some who do medical transport, as well.

Shilad says her group is watching for possible talks of the fees during the current tax and spending negotiations in Washington. 28 Senators sent a letter to the White House earlier this year to officially oppose the fee.

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