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Could friendly skies become a tollway?

Air-control tower and plane

KAI RYSSDAL: Clearly, the president and Congress have different ideas about how to spend our money. And as happens every year on budget day, skeptics call the president's spending plan dead on arrival.

But even a DOA budget can offer some insight. Clues about which way the policy winds are blowing.

Aviation types in Washington have spent much of the day today reading the budgetary fine print, as Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Analysts who got a look at the Federal Aviation Administration budget today say there's gonna be a big shake-up in how the FAA is funded.

Right now, the agency's budget comes from a mix of things, including fuel surcharges and taxes on plane tickets. But the FAA budget alludes to a new system that might be on the way: user fees connected to actual usage of the air traffic control system.

Andy Cebula

of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

says that won't fly.

ANDY CEBULA: Right now, you get the sense that the aviation community is being turned to and said we'd really like to have a blank check and so, obviously, we're not gonna walk in and say that's fine with us.

Cebula's read of the budget shows the FAA collecting about $8 billion in user fees in 2009. But Aviation Week's David Bond

says it's not that clear yet. He does see a move toward user fees, but he says they'd be fair, with bigger planes paying more.

DAVID BOND:I think the smaller airplanes are probably gonna need some kind of a break.

Still, if you give a break to them, the big corporate cats are gonna want one, too.

But aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia says the private jet business is growing faster than commercial aviation. And the FAA thinks companies that own jets need to pay more.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: If you look at the hundreds of planes that have come on line, each of these represents an additional source of funding.

Now, Aboulafia and the other budget readers are tuning their crystal balls into Capitol Hill. Analysts say it's hard to say if Congress will go for the proposed user fees. One thing's for sure: the debate will be turbulent.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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