May 12, 2007

FAA reauthorization act opposed by many Alaska pilots

More than 1,700 pilots, all members of the Alaska Airmen's Association, have signed a petition opposing the Federal Aviation Administration's reauthorization bill, and a newer recent U.S. Senate version.

The Alaska Airmen's Association petition acts as support for a joint resolution in the Alaska Legislature to oppose any national legislation that increases fuel tax, adds user fees, and takes the FAA from Congressional oversight.

“When more than three pilots agree on anything it represents something of a miracle,” said Joe Pearson, president of the Alaska Airmen's Association at the Alaska Airmen's Association 10th Annual Tradeshow and Conference.

The association's petition followed a collective call to action by aviation groups nationwide. Big organizations, such as the National Business Aviation Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association, are calling for pilots nationwide to respond what the FAA is billing as the “Next Generation Transportation Financing Reform Act of 2007.”

The legislation was introduced by Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.V. and chair of the subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill would increase user fees and fuel taxes for individual aircraft owners who fly the U.S. skies. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., was co-sponsor of the bill to provide funding for air traffic control modernization.

Joint Resolution 18, currently in the Alaska House and Senate, opposes the proposed legislation, which would increase the price of aviation gas, known as AVGas, from 19.4 cents a gallon to 70 cents a gallon, and would increase the tax on aviation fuel, Jet A, from 21.9 cents a gallon to 70 cents a gallon. The measure would also implement fees for the use of the National Airspace System.

In addition the resolution identified that Congress would loose its oversight of the FAA, making it easier for the administration to privatize some of its services.

The joint resolution has language that identifies Alaska's dependence on aviation and says that such an increase in taxes and user fees, in combination with a reduction of airport funding, would be detrimental to the state's residents.

Leading the charge for business owners of aircraft against the proposal is the National Business Aircraft Association.

“The NBAA, while recognizing that the recent Rockefeller Senate bill is an improvement over the FAA's proposal, does not support either bill,” said Steve Brown, vice president of operations for NBAA at a presentation at the Alaska Airmen's Association Tradeshow in Anchorage.

The Airmen's petition was sent on Monday May7th to the Alaska Senate, where senators and house representatives were working on some technical wording before passing the resolution.

In the meantime the U.S. Senate passed a modified version of the reauthorization act that differed from the original FAA version and included support from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

This bill addresses the need for increased funding for airport modernization; improved air cargo infrastructure; and increased funding for the Essential Air Service program, which connects small communities to the national transportation system by ensuring a minimum level of scheduled air service, Stevens said in a blanket press release issues May 4.

“More than 140 rural communities across the nation, including 39 in Alaska, currently benefit from this program. While this bill is a step in the right direction, I will be looking for feedback from Alaskans in order to make this legislation better,” Stevens said. “It is important that the FAA reauthorization continue to move forward through the process because the residents of Alaska depend on aviation more than any other state. Aviation is of particular importance to Alaska because more than 70 percent of our communities can be reached throughout the year only by air. Rural air service is literally a lifeline for many Alaskan communities.”

One feature in the Rockefeller Senate Bill is a $25 fee for each leg of an instrument flight, referred to as a user fee. Alaska pilots point out that this will encourage unsafe flying to avoid paying the fee.

“I can see where if you are an instrument rated pilot, you might fly VFR (visual flight rules) when you should file and fly IFR,” said Lee Ryan, a pilot with Arctic Transportation Services. “This will just up the CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) accident rate in Alaska.”

While the major pilot groups in Alaska are against the legislation the Alaska Air Carriers Association is taking an impartial stance on the Senate version of the Act.

“We are neutral on the fuel tax issue, but, oppose the user fee and removal of Congressional oversight in the reauthorization bill,” said Wilfred “Boyuck” Ryan, president of the AACA.

One Alaska pilot and a representative of the AOPA stated yet another concern about the safety of the Act at a meeting during the Alaska Airmen's Association Tradeshow.

“When the price of fuel goes up, pilots will fly less,” said Tom George, from Fairbanks. “Less flying means rusty pilots, who are not proficient, and are a formula for more accidents.”

By Rob Stapleton. Contact:

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