Blaine setting for Palin speech highlights a difference with McCain


It’s significant, perhaps, that Sara Palin’s visit to Minnesota on Friday is occurring at a general aviation airport — Anoka Blaine Airport. If there’s one area where she and her running mate disagree, it’s on the biggest issue facing general aviation : user fees.

Complicating the issue even more is that the “aviation community” leans heavily Republican.

For the last 2 1/2 years, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest lobbying arm of general aviation, has been opposing a Bush administration proposal to finance the Federal Aviation Administration with user fees, similar to how Canada finances its aviation services. (Full disclosure: I am a member of AOPA, however I lean toward a user-fee system.)

It says the surplus in the Aviation Trust Fund, paid for by taxes on general aviation fuel, airline passenger tickets, and cargo, should be used instead, and argues that the skies will be less safe because pilots won’t use air traffic control and other services designed to keep flying a relatively safe exercise.

The nation’s airlines want more of the cost of the system transferred to business and general aviation. Business and general aviation interests say it’s the airlines that are the biggest users, and should be the biggest funders.

The plan has plenty of supporters. “General aviation should pay more; the FAA says it provides only 3 percent of the financing for the air-traffic control system, yet it accounts for roughly 17 percent of its use,” the Rocky Mountain News editorialized at the height of the debate in 2007.

Sen. John McCain has leaned toward the airlines’ view, voting against an amendment to eliminate the Bush administration’s proposed $25-per-flight user fee on general aviation.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, McCain had a testy exchange when he tried to block the appointment of the AOPA president to a council that advises the FAA on aviation issues, partly because of the organization official’s opposition to user fees .

“I wanted to get at, which we should get at, the wealthiest people in America who are flying corporate jets around this country and not paying an extra penny for doing so, while average citizens, average middle income, lower income American citizens are paying, again, an increase in their cost of air tickets, while your fat cat friends pay nothing. “

McCain stressed that user fees would only apply to business aircraft. The general aviation interests insist that a user fee-funding system would only expand.

Who favored eliminating the user fee? Gov. Sarah Palin. She signed a resolution in Alaska in 2007 that opposed “the enactment of the provisions in the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007 that impose user fees, increase aviation fuel and aviation gas taxes, reduce airport funding, and reduce Congressional oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Obama’s position? According to Evan Sparks, who writes about aviation policy, “As far as I can find, he’s not on record endorsing user fees, and the FAA reauthorization bill never came up for a final vote in the Senate.”