Gearing Up - August 2015


Over the past decade, USPA has joined all other general aviation associations in fighting recurring proposals to fund the nation’s air traffic control system—a government-provided service—with user fees instead of the current system of federal fuel taxes. The reason the general aviation community doesn’t want a change is simple: The current system works. GA users, including jump operators, pay for the system through federal taxes on aviation fuel, currently 21.8 cents per gallon for jet fuel and 19.3 cents per gallon for avgas. Users who fly more, and presumably use the ATC system more, pay more. A Cessna operator who flies 10 loads on a Saturday will pay $12 at the pump in federal tax on avgas. A Twin Otter operator who flies 20 loads will pay about $100 in federal tax on jet fuel. A fuel tax is easy to calculate, easy to pay and easy to collect. Conversely, a user fee almost certainly would involve an invoicing and payment process that requires a whole new bureaucracy.

Because Congress never got behind the idea, no one knows what form the user fee would have taken, but one proposal floated the concept of a $100-per-takeoff fee for turbine aircraft. Had that been enacted, that same Twin Otter operator would have seen a $2,000 tax bill at the end of his 20-load day, increasing each jump ticket by $5.

Now some in Congress—in particular Representative Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee—are pushing the concept of separating the ATC function from the Federal Aviation Administration and privatizing it. Their theory is that ATC is best run like a for-profit business that sets its own fees and strips out politics and the uncertainties of government funding. This sounds good and explains why many countries—including Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom—have converted their ATC systems into private corporations or public-private entities. But how is that working out for skydivers? We asked.

New Zealand has a public-private entity, so there’s still some government control. Jump operators pay from $2.50 to $10 per load. According to one operator, this “has increased costs for all, but more so created an arrogant organization who think they are clever because they can make money. We are weary of them increasing their charges.”

Canada created NAV CANADA, a private corporation that covers its costs with “service charges.” Aircraft pay an annual fee (about $70 for a Cessna and $230 for a twin-engine aircraft) plus per-flight or per-day charges. A Twin Otter operator at a towered airport pays about $85 per day. Oh, and NAV CANADA can seize an aircraft for non-payment.

The U.K. went with a public-private entity in 2001. The ATC entity has imposed no new fees yet, but one British Parachute Association official said, “I am sure it will appear on an agenda at some point in the future.”

A corporation that runs air traffic control will do what’s best for the corporation and will impose whatever fees are necessary to cover its costs. It has to, or it will go out of business. Should this idea go forward, USPA will consult with the other general aviation groups and work against any change that will increase the cost of skydiving and decrease the flexibility that jump operators and other GA users currently enjoy.

Blue Skies,

Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director


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