A bill proposed by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, that would impose a $1,000 landing fee on any personal, corporate-owned, or charter rental aircraft that land at Massachusetts airports is being altered after the legislation received extensive pushback from municipal airports like Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
The goal of the bill is to take 50 percent of the landing fee money collected by airports and deposit it into a fund that would help repair and improve state infrastructure that has been damaged or affected by climate change — the airport would be allowed to keep the other half of the funds for its internal operations.
But airport officials are suggesting that the proposed legislation be dropped from consideration altogether, as its primary actions still violate federal aviation laws, and could potentially cause airports to lose their grant assurances from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), even with significant revisions.
Officials also noted that the hefty fee would weigh disparately on private pilots, and dissuade many from even operating their aircraft in Massachusetts at all.
After receiving responses from municipal airports, including Martha’s Vineyard Airport, Cyr is looking to shift some elements of the bill, so that it is aimed more precisely at corporate or private aircraft registered out-of-state, not to hamper recreational aviation or small-scale aviators.
But, according to airport director Geoff Freeman, discriminating against the wealthy is also a violation of federal statute, and charging fees based on where an aircraft is registered would violate the Commerce Clause.
For Freeman and other airport officials who have been largely left out of the conversation, the lack of outreach to the public, and to state aviation groups and airports has also been a point of frustration.
“We haven’t gotten a lot of information. His office is really not returning calls for comment from airports,” Freeman said. “It looks like there is the potential to just discriminate against the rich, which is still against federal obligations for airports, and it’s still not a conversation starter, I believe.”
Although Cyr is still calling the bill a “conversation starter,” Freeman stressed that a ground-level approach must be taken to involve all municipal airports and interested groups in the discussion.
Airport managers have expressed their displeasure with the bill, but Freeman said they are still being kept in the dark,
“To be expressing these types of intentions while not considering federal regulations that prohibit the actions he is proposing is kind of surprising,” Freeman said. “The bill is still violating federal regulations when it comes to revenue diversions for airports, and discriminating against a sector of transportation.”
Although Freeman said Martha’s Vineyard Airport has strived to focus on sustainability and eco-conscious initiatives, he doesn’t think the legislation will achieve the carbon-reduction and infrastructure goals it has set forth. He suggested that Cyr and other legislators provide the opportunity for airport officials and members of the Massachusetts aviation community to weigh in on any initiatives going forward.
“We would like the legislation removed as an article for consideration. Then, we can start the conversation moving forward with objectives to get to a certain place, so that we all have an understanding of both federal and state laws, and our view of wanting to help the environment in our way,” Freeman said.
Cyr was not immediately available for comment, though a spokesman said he would answer questions about the proposal Monday.
Airport commission chair Bob Rosenbaum was equally confused and frustrated by the alterations proposed for the bill, citing implications beyond just violating federal law.
“To my mind, he should just forget the whole thing,” Rosenbaum said.
In response to the proposed alterations to the pending bill, Rosenbaum sent a letter to Cyr reiterating his stance that the legislation should be withdrawn entirely.
“While the goal of reducing carbon emissions is one we all share, the methodology in this bill is the wrong approach and there are no revisions that will make it work,” Rosenbaum writes in his letter.
In Cyr’s response to the pushback, he said that federal laws will need to be changed in order to accommodate the stipulations contained in the bill.
Rosenbaum doesn’t think this is likely, and suggested a better use of lawmakers’ and aviation officials’ time would be to eliminate the bill altogether, and engage in a thoughtful and extensive conversation on how to make air travel more energy efficient and eco-friendly.
“He said he would get the feds to change the laws in order to make the bill work — well, that’s not real sane thinking,” Rosenbaum said.
Apart from demonizing a population based on their net worth or income level “by going after the millionaires and billionaires from out of state,” Rosenbaum said that element of the legislation would put a significant burden on airport staff to determine where a plane is registered, and then do the billing.
But the greatest frustration for Rosenbaum has been the ongoing lack of communication from Cyr’s office, which to his knowledge has been across the board for municipal airports.
“Your response states that you filed the legislation to ‘start a conversation.’ Rosenbaum writes in his letter to Cyr. “There are much better ways to start a conversation. There was no attempt to reach out to any of the impacted parties, and the aviation community in particular, to try to understand the issues and gather any input from them to get suggestions on how to successfully accomplish the goals without destroying an entire industry that employs almost 200,000 people and generates $25 billion in revenue in the Commonwealth.”