WASHINGTON May 2 The U.S. Senate aviation
committee is weighing a plan that would phase out airline fuel
taxes but require commercial and business jets to pay a
departure fee to raise billions for air traffic modernization.
Draft legislation obtained by Reuters also proposes a
series of requirements to improve airline customer service, an
issue that received new attention from Congress after
storm-related service meltdowns this past winter.
The Senate Commerce Committee proposal to overhaul funding
for air traffic control and other programs run by the Federal
Aviation Administration differs from a Bush administration plan
that would cut other taxes and impose broad-based user fees on
The committee, headed by Sen. John Rockefeller, a West
Virginia Democrat, appears to split the difference between
commercial and private interests in its formula for maintaining
air traffic services and underwriting a modernized system.
However, business jet owners and manufacturers will no
doubt oppose plans by the committee, confirmed by sources, to
recommend that Congress more than double the fuel tax on their
operations to just under 50 cents per gallon. The FAA proposal
would have hiked that tax to roughly 70 cents.
The panel, at the same time, wants to roll back the current
4.3 cents per gallon fuel tax on airlines and replace that with
a $25 fee per departure to help pay for modernizing the aging
radar-based air traffic network. Business jets would have to
pay the new fee, too. Other taxes and fees on airlines would
remain in place.
Final decisions on tax issues fall under the Senate Finance
The House of Representatives has yet to propose its FAA
financing proposal but is expected to do so in the coming
Key lawmakers in both chambers have said they want
agreement on a new FAA financing formula this summer. The FAA
says the current funding blueprint, which expires on Sept. 30,
will not meet the agency's future operational or modernization
needs with traffic expected to increase exponentially over the
Congressional aides did not return calls seeking comment.
A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the main
trade group for major U.S. airlines, said the group had not
reviewed the draft proposal and deferred comment.
On customer service, the Senate plan would require airlines
to provide adequate food, water and restroom facilities to
passengers stuck on planes for long delays.
For planes that have boarded but not left the gate after
three hours, airlines would have to give passengers the option
of leaving the aircraft as long as safety or security was not
The customer service proposal stems from service meltdowns
this past winter at JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU.O) in New York
and American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp. AMR.N, in Texas,
as well as unusually long delays at other carriers.
Airlines oppose any congressional intervention in their
operations and have urged Senate lawmakers not to impose
customer service requirements.
One aviation source also said the Senate panel would
recommend that the mandatory retirement age for commercial
pilots be extended from 60 to 65.