The Dark Cloud of User Fees (Part 2) – Canada, Oui! EU, um, no.

4:47 PM

Vincent Lambercy, right, with Jason Schappert during their “Flying Across America” flight in 2010.
(Editor’s Note: This is the part 2 of an ongoing series looking at how “user fees” are structured in the European Union. You can read part 1 here.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor   

In part one of this series, I began this exclusive series by setting up the worst case scenario of what could happen to general and business aviation in the United States if our Federal government outsourced Air Traffic Control services to Controllers “R” Us and implemented a user fee system similar to what pilots in the EU have to face to pay for it all.
This series is not going to look at every user fee system in every country. And it is not going to conclude that we absolutely will end up with EU-style user fees. I just want to point out just how bad it could be if we in the aviation community do not join the aviation industry and trade associations in fighting hard to at least get something more like what Canadian pilots pay.
Via Twitter, Douglas Robertson (@douglasr) said he pays an annual user fee of $67.64 (plus a federal excise tax on fuel of 0.10 CAD per litre) for his PA-32 to NAV CANADA for all services. This fee is determined by aircraft weight, and his Piper falls well below the 6,614-pound MTOW threshold when fees rise dramatically.
“The fuel tax goes into general government revenue which is used to support the “system”, including airports, Transport Canada, etc.,” Robertson said. “The user fee of less than $70 CAD annually has been the same for what seems like forever. I doubt that fee will increase dramatically or ever change to the EU system. If you look at the ‘Charging Principles’ as stated in Section A.2 of NAV CANADA’s Customer Guide to Charges, it states that charges in respect of recreational and private aircraft must not be unreasonable or undue. The key to Canada’s system is that NAV CANADA is a non-profit and the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act regulates it.”
These are user fees we as U.S. pilots could live with, and there would be no fatal blow dealt to the industry. As stated in part one, we are still a long ways from any actual legislation on this issue. The current Federal government has bigger fish to fry right now, and is having a tough time moving much of it forward while in constant scandal mode. I am confident that the D.C. teams of AOPA and NBAA will be watching this one closely, ready to pounce.
So, moving on…let’s continue the story about user fees across the pond in the EU. What follows is a verbatim re-publication of Swiss pilot Vincent Lambercy’s article on his site.

FAA Privatisation – User fees based ATC – First-hand experience from Europe 

The topic of privatizing the FAA or at least ATC is hot again now that the Trump administration is talking about it again. The most important point here is not about having a private or state run ATC but what for a model. I’m flying in Europe, and we have user fees everywhere. Landing fees, approach fees, parking fees, passenger fees, customs fees and a few more. There is even a whole chapter on fees in my “Flying in Europe” eBook, available on Amazon.
Airports being run by private or state organization has nothing to do with it, it is only a matter of funding model. Look at France for example: ATC and most airports are run by the state but the funding model is still “user pays”, so you pay for each landing and even for each approach. Instead of having tax payers’ money pay for ATC, it is (at least partly) paid for directly by the users.
Some argue that there is no reason for taxpayers to fund the infrastructure used as a hobby by others. This is not the discussion I want to launch here. The question is rather how this affects the safety of general aviation, and of aviation in general. What are the consequences of a pay per use system? It is quite obvious and sad: an increase in risks taken by pilots.
I felt it myself at least once. I was on an IFR training flight to Bern (LSZB), flying a single-engine light aircraft. With a takeoff weight below 2000 kgs, I was at least not subject to en-route fees (yes, we’ve that for IFR in Europe), but I had to pay approach fees and landing fees. The approach did not run was good as I would and I started to consider a go-around. The approach fees were 60 swiss francs at the time, roughly USD $50.00.
My approach eventually got better and I could land safely. But the simple fact that the price of a second approach came to my mind during the approach was both a distraction and a small extra pressure to land and not go around.
When I flew in the U.S., I really appreciated the level of freedom available there, be in in terms of operating times, restricted areas, services offered to general aviation pilots, and absence of fees! While it is clear to me that the ATC system must be funded and paid for somehow, I really think that user fees is not the best way of doing it, particularly not on a “pay per approach” or “pay per landing” basis.
Spreading the costs without having each event leading to a fee is in all cases a much better system. The question is the to decide how to split it and who should bear the costs. But please, if you can do anything to protect the U.S. from getting into the kind of systems we have in Europe, just do it, for the sake of aviation safety!

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