Congress is considering legislation to significantly raise federal taxes on some types of aviation fuel, a bill which opponents say would dramatically hurt small airports and small businesses across Iowa. Robert Grierson, manager of the Dubuque Regional Airport, says the proposed fuel taxes would more than triple.
Grierson says: "Right now, your average general aviation aircraft, those that don’t burn jet fuel, paid 19-cents per gallon in federal taxes that go into this pot of funds to be used for many different purposes within the FAA. They are proposing to bring that up to over 70-cents per gallon." He says the federal taxes on jet fuel would be erased for commercial airlines, what he says is a great inequity.
He says the legislation, the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act of 2007, would also charge the same "user fee" for take-offs and landings for any airplane, whether it’s a prop-driven aircraft with three passengers or a jumbo jet with 300 people on board.
Grierson says: "It’s not going to have much of an effect on the airline passenger. Where it’s going to effect us, most particularly, in rural America, as you are trying to get in and out of the smaller airports and smaller communities, the only way you can do that, generally, is by general aviation. Whether it’s business aircraft, med-evac aircraft, small package cargo, light general aviation, even agricultural purposes, that’s where the costs are going to go up."
Grierson says the proposed changes would hit small airports across Iowa and nationwide, with ripple effects in many communities, including Dubuque. Grierson says, "For the University of Dubuque which has a flight program here, they take people from zero flight time all the way through the commercial ratings and they have an arrangement with commercial carriers to accept their pilots. They can easily expect an additional $15,000 increase, per student, just because of the increase in taxes and their fuel."
He says only 550 of the nation’s 5,300 airports service big airlines. He says the bill would shift more than two-billion dollars in "user fees" to small airports which would have a huge effect on the aviation industry in Iowa. "The commercial passenger isn’t going to see much of an impact but it is going to affect every business that uses an aircraft in the performance of their business," Grierson says, "whether it’s agricultural spraying, flying checks, flying parts, transporting executives, even to those who are transporting patients for medical care."
The bill is expected to go before the Senate Finance Committee in a few weeks. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on that panel, predicts several key changes will be made in the bill. Grassley says, "I think that on the expenditure side, that everything that is in the bill is things that need to be done and will be done. I disagree with the method of financing."
He says five or six of the major airlines are lining up behind the bill because it would bring about a big change in how fees are paid, shifting much of the burden to general aviation and away from commercial carriers. Grassley says, "I think that that’s hitting the little guy to too great of an extent and my guess is that the Finance Committee is going to continue financing the airport system in the same way that we have."