User Fees and Aviation Safety

If the Obama Administration's per flight user fee passes, aviation safety will be in jeopardy. Here's why.

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“Don’t put the gear down just yet,” said the instructor, who also happened to be the owner of the flight school where I was getting my commercial multi training. I was in the midst of performing the requisite 10 night takeoffs and landings in a Piper Seneca and this was my third or maybe fourth circuit in the pattern. The instructor smiled and added, “It’s my way of saving on fuel.”

While striving for maximum efficiency in our flying is commendable, the need for small businesses to stay afloat in a tough economy is what really drives the owner of a flight school or small charter outfit to always be on the lookout for ways to save on costs. You and I might not mind paying for the so-called $100 hamburger, but if a company can save $100, that’s $100 they don’t need to worry about earning today. And those one hundred dollar bills add up.

Unfortunately, the imposition of a $100-per-flight user fee on turbine-powered airplanes operating on IFR flight plans will give many of these small operators an all-too-enticing way of saving money: don’t file.

While the big corporate flight departments and large charter outfits will begrudgingly pay the White House’s $100 fee if it is adopted, scores of small operators that are struggling just to get by no doubt will suggest that their pilots fly VFR rather than incurring the charge. Passengers won’t know the difference – or realize that their pilot could be putting them at risk to avoid paying a government fee.

What would that mean for aviation safety? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m fairly positive the net long term effect would mean more accidents and more people killed. After all, the minute the government dreams up a new tax, the people who are expected to pay it start looking for the loopholes.