Richard Breitlow is an account executive with AGFA Materials Corporation, where he specializes in aerial photography product sales. He is the former chairman of the Aerial Acquisition Committee of MAPPS with more than 38 years’ experience in the aerial photography business.
Recently, President Obama proposed a Federal debt and deficit reduction plan that includes slower and longer depreciation schedules for business owned aircraft. While billed as eliminating a tax loophole for corporate executives’ jets, the proposal would also adversely affect small businesses, including aerial imagery and geospatial data collection operators. MAPPS has already commented
Now the "President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction" has been released, including a proposed $100 per flight fee for air traffic control services. This double-whammy on the aerial survey profession is both economically unwise and politically burdensome and unfair.
Like other aviation related associations, MAPPS recognizes the need to pay for air traffic control (ATC) services. General aviation has historically paid for those services through fuel taxes, commonly referred to as "pay at the pump". The proposed $100 fee per flight would add a whole new accounting requirement and new level of government bureaucracy just to administer and enforce the new requirement. The best way for general aviation to pay for ATC services is to continue to pay at the pump. Whether the current amount taxed is appropriate, or should be raised is another argument. Certainly there is a lot of waste in FAA spending that should be eliminated before increases are considered.
The Obama Administration portrayed the proposed fee as a tax on corporate jets. However the actual wording only excludes military aircraft, public aircraft, recreational piston aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights. All aerial survey flights in controlled airspace would be subject to the proposed fee, regardless of aircraft type. MAPPS has gone on record in opposition to per flight air traffic control fees.
Adding a $100 fee per flight for ATC services would only further burden a profession already hard-hit by the decline in the housing market, and the economy in general, and would certainly have a negative impact on hiring. This fee would have just the opposite effect of the intent of the President's "jobs bill".
Lobbyists for commercial airlines have long favored measures to shift a larger share of the burden for ATC services to general aviation. However, attempts in the past to include a per flight ATC user fee or "charge" in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Authorization bill have been met with stiff opposition.
The current effort will, and should, meet a similar fate.
While the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction appears to have little chance of passing Congress, parts of it could find its way into the "Super Committee's" plan to reduce the national debt and annual government deficit. This is where the real danger lies.
In order to protect the interests of the aerial survey profession, and the public and clients we serve, I suggest:
- the current Pay at the Pump method be preserved as the best way for general aviation to help pay for ATC services and the "fee per flight" concept be rejected,
- Identify "Super Committee” members who are aviation friendly and urge them to either reject the fee outright, or adopt wording to exclude flights that are primarily work operations, such as small businesses operating aircraft for aerial surveys.
- Identify FAA activities that can be reformed, eliminated or privatized to save money and explore a more balanced and equitable method of paying for FAA and ATC services that does not unfairly target general aviation generally or aerial survey operations in particular.