AOPA chief: General aviation user fee issue likely to recur

03/11/2014 6:25 PM

08/08/2014 10:22 AM

The White House’s budget includes the addition of a $100 per flight user fee on general aviation, a measure that Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association CEO Mark Baker thinks will fail to win congressional approval.

Still, Baker said, it’s likely the industry will face the same issue again.

“I don’t know this will ever go away,” said Baker, who assumed the role as AOPA’s top leader last year.

At a time when some sectors of the aviation industry continue to struggle, user fees would reduce aviation activity even more, Baker said.

“Why do you want to put more burden on a distressed industry?” Baker said.

The user fee would impose a $100 fee on certain general aviation flights for the use of air traffic services.

Piston-powered aircraft would be exempt from the fee, as would military aircraft, aircraft operated by government agencies, air ambulances and aircraft operating outside controlled airspace, according to information in the budget.

Still, passage would open the door for fees to be expanded at some point, Baker said.

The general aviation industry now pays its fair share through aviation fuel taxes, Baker said. Collecting the fees, charged at take-off, also would create another burden by adding a level of bureaucracy.

Potential deep cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration will have to be compensated for in some way, he said. But he suggested the FAA might be able to find savings in its budget.

Some legislation being considered at the state and federal level would, if passed, help promote aviation, he said.

One is a bill that would allow pilots of small airplanes under certain conditions to maintain a valid driver’s license rather than hold a third class medical certificate.

And in Kansas, the House of Representatives will consider a bill that would exempt homebuilt airplanes from annual property tax assessments. It would expand on a law that exempts business aircraft and planes older than 30 years from property taxes.

Baker was the keynote speaker at the Wichita Aero Club’s luncheon Tuesday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Wichita Airport.

He has logged more than 7,500 flight hours and has flown a variety of craft, including seaplanes, turbines and helicopters. His favorite airplane is his Piper Super Cub.

Baker has served as CEO of Orchard Supply Hardware Stores Corp., and he also worked in senior executive roles at Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., Gander Mountain Co. and the Home Depot.

AOPA is working to help increase the pilot population and get people back into aviation.

Boosting the industry creates jobs in Wichita, said Baker, a pilot who flew AOPA’s Citation CJ3 to Wichita for the luncheon.

Currently, 1.5 million people in the U.S. younger than 75 have been involved in aviation, but for one reason or another no longer fly, he said. The question is how to get them “back in the game,” Baker said.

Cost can be an issue, he said. But they may not realize that the monthly cost of flying can total $200 to $400 a month, especially through flying clubs, Baker said.

This year, AOPA is hosting regional fly-ins around the country. As the AOPA considers future fly-ins, Wichita would be a likely site, he said.

“It needs to be in Wichita,” Baker said. “We want to have it here.”

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