Aviation Taxes and Fees: Major Issues
CRS Report for Congress
Aviation Taxes and Fees: Major Issues
John W. Fischer
Specialist in Transportation
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The existing federal aviation tax structure is primarily a user fee based system that
has developed over the last 30 plus years. Prior to September 11, aviation taxes and
fees, while not popular with the airline industry, were not regarded by most as a major
policy issue. This situation has now changed, especially as a result of new security based
fees imposed in the fall of 2001. Given the airline industry’s continuing financial
problems, the industry is now asking Congress for some form of tax relief. The industry
believes that such an action can be justified in light of the large security costs imposed
on aviation as a result of the events of September 11. With passage of P.L. 108-11,
Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations for FY2003, the industry has been
granted a four month suspension of the aviation security fee beginning June 1, 2003.
This report provides an overview of the existing aviation tax structure and provides a
brief discussion of some of the issues associated with it. This report will be updated as
warranted by events.
There are a wide range of federal taxes and fees imposed on the airline industry,
almost all of which are statutorily linked to federal aviation programs. The tax and fee
structure, shown in Table 1, has evolved over time. The passenger security fee, which
was imposed beginning in 2002, is the newest fee. Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs)
originated in 1990 and were modified more recently. Many of the airport and airway trust
fund related fees originated along with the trust fund in the 1970s. Immigration, Customs,
and Agricultural inspection fees in some form predate the aviation specific taxes and fees1
discussed in this report. A few of the fees discussed here have broad application that
goes well beyond aviation. The Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS), and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) all provide extensive
services related to other modes of transportation. Some of the Immigration, Customs, and
Agricultural fees are linked to the cost of providing inspections services. That is, the fee
1 For the purposes of this report the discussion focuses on federal activities that have an aviation
related tax or fee. Programs such as aeronautical research provided by NASA, funded entirely
by U.S. Treasury General Funds, are therefore outside the framework of this discussion.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
is modified periodically to provide the agency performing the service with full cost
Aviation Related Federal Taxes and Fees, FY1998-FY2002 (millions of dollars)
or FeeLevel of ContributionRevenues
rport and Airway Trust19981999200020012002
Passenger Ticket Tax7.5% on all domestic airline tickets5,4555,9415,1034,8054,726
Segment Tax$3.00 per flight segment defined as a single take-off and5471,3391,6551,5561,532
single landing (tax level indexed to CPI beginning in
Waybill Tax6.25% cargo waybill tax313412500493474
Fuel Tax19.3 cents/gallon on general aviation use of gasoline6591,009887769789
21.8 cents/gallon on general aviation use of jet fuel
4.3 cents/gallon on commercial aviation jet fuel
International$13.40 international departure tax (indexed to CPI)9481,4841,3491,3361,282
Departure/Arrival Tax$13.40 international arrivals tax (indexed to CPI)
Rural Airports Tax7.5% on domestic airline tickets to “qualified rural4857868280
Frequent Flyer Awards7.5% on awards of free or reduced rate air transportation,141149159150148
Taxe.g. frequent flyer awards based on credit card use.
Total Tax Revenue8,15310,4239,7399,1919,031
Interest on InvestmentsInterest paid on Treasury Bonds held in the Airport and543698805882860
Airway Trust Fund
Total Trust Fund**8,69611,12110,68810,14910,069
ssenger Facility ChargesPFCs are essentially local taxes that require federal1,4491,5141,5571,585 2,019
authority for collection (also sometimes referred to as headCYCYCYCY est. CY
taxes). $1.00 to $4.50 per emplaned passenger at
commercial service airports. Maximum of $18 may be
imposed on a round trip ticket.
ight User FeesCharged on flights transiting the United States and using03028 est
air traffic control services. $33.72/100 miles in enroute
environment and $15.94/100 miles in oceanic
en vi ro n men t .
ministration (TSA) Fees
Passenger Security Fee$2.50 per enplanement on flights originating at an airport 1,038-
(collection suspendedin the United States. Maximum of $10 per round trip. 1, 665
6/1/03 -9/31/03)Collection of this fee began February 1, 2002est*
Air Carrier SecurityTo be determined by the TSA. Fees may not exceed the300-
Fee (collectionaggregate cost paid by the airline industry for security1,000
suspended 6/1/03 -screening in Calendar Year 2000. Adjustment of per-est*
9/31/03)carrier limit beginning in FY2005
Inspection Fee$7 per arriving international airline passenger
Inspection Fee$5 per passenger, not collected from passengers27121723524394
originating in Mexico, Canada, or the Carribeanyear-to-
mal and Plant Health
Passenger Inspection$3.10 on each arriving international passenger (Fee was96132142
Fee$2.00 in FY1999, $2.05 in FY2000, and $3.00 in
FY2001)not collected from passengers originating in
Commercial Aircraft$65.25 per aircraft on international arrivals (Fee was283842
Inspection Fee$59.75 in FY1999, $60.25 in FY2000, $64.00 in
FY2001,and $64.75 in FY2002) Not collected from
aircraft operating solely between Canada and the United
S t at es
ow estimate from DOT Inspector General (fiscal year). High estimate from Air Transport Association (based on 2000 calender year).
Total trust fund income includes refunds of taxes and offsetting collections not shown in table. Includes Alaska and Hawaii departures/arrivals tax
ces: U.S. Government. Office of Management and Budget. Budget of the United States Government, various years. Agency budget submissions
ongress for the appropriate fiscal year. Federal Aviation Administration for PFCs. Customs Service. APHIS
Who Pays the Tax
With a couple of notable exceptions the taxes and fees under discussion here are
collected by airlines as part of the airline ticket. The taxes, however, are statutorily
imposed on the airline passenger not on the airline itself. This does not mean that the
effects of the tax are borne entirely by the passenger. Airline’s must, for example, address
how much of the tax can be passed on to the consumer in terms of higher fares without
negatively depressing traffic.
Although fees, as discussed above, have an impact on airline travel, those fees
imposed prior to September 11th probably did not create a significant barrier to travel.
Since September 11th, however, it is argued that the new higher fees, along with other
factors, such as security related hassles and delays, may be having a noteworthy impact
on travel. To the extent that a traveler’s costs are raised, and not all costs are directly
measurable in dollar terms, there is always the possibility of the consumer seeking
alternate means of making a trip or, perhaps foregoing a trip altogether. The key is what
constitutes an acceptable cost from the consumer’s standpoint. Notwithstanding the
repercussions of September 11, the long term evidence shows that fees in existence prior
to that date hardly dissuaded air travel which grew steadily on a long term basis for
As mentioned above, airlines in most cases are collection agents for these fees. In
many instances an airline bills the passenger for the fee at the time a ticket is sold. At
some specified interval, the airlines are required to turn the proceeds over to the U.S.
Treasury for deposit in the appropriate account. During the period between ticket sale and
distribution to the Treasury, airlines are typically allowed to hold these funds in
appropriate financial instruments and retain any interest payments made on these
instruments. By way of example, the APHIS program requires quarterly payments, but
the rules are written in such a way that an airline could retain some of these fees and earn
interest on them for up to four months. The ability to retain interest has always been
viewed as a way to offset an airline’s costs of collection. The amount of interest that an
airline might receive in this manner was not inconsequential during periods of high
interest rates. At the present time, however, low interest rates have greatly reduced the
attractiveness of using this funding mechanism as a way to offset the costs of collection
incurred by the airline.
There are four fees that the airlines pay directly. The first, and smallest in dollar
terms, is the APHIS aircraft inspection fee on aircraft arriving from outside the United
States. The second fee is a 4.4 cent per gallon tax on jet fuel used by the airline industry.
Of this amount 4.3 cents is deposited in the airport and airway trust fund, with the
remaining 0.1 cent placed in the non-aviation related leaking underground storage tank
(LUST) trust fund. The third fee is the overflight fee, which is normally levied on non-
U.S. airlines that are transiting United States airspace. This fee is designed to offset the
cost of air traffic control services provided to these air carriers during transit, although the
funds collected are used to fund a portion of the Essential Air Services program.
The newest direct fee is the air carrier security fee imposed on the airlines as a result
of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA)(P.L. 107-71) enacted on
November 16, 2001. The actual size of this fee is still unknown, but it is expected to be
significant. A debate is currently underway between the airline industry and the
Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding the size of the fee. The annual fee is
limited to the amount that the industry spent to provide security in calendar year 2000.
The airline industry, at the time of this writing, contends that the fee should be in the
range of $300 million. The DOT Inspector General’s Office contends that the airlines
themselves indicated last fall that the amount in question should be around $1 billion. An
audit is currently underway. By law this fee cannot be adjusted until FY2005. It is worth
noting that an effect of establishing this fee will be the long term elimination of the
industry’s potential future direct costs for increased security, because it transfers the
security responsibility to the newly established Transportation Security Administration
What the Taxes and Fees Pay For2
The Airport and Airway Trust Fund (Aviation Trust Fund). The trust fund
pays for the majority of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) programs and
activities. The trust fund pays for all of the FAA’s airport improvement program (AIP),
facilities and equipment program, and research, engineering and development program.
It pays for most of the FAA’s operations and maintenance program which also receives
General Funds from the Treasury.
Revenue collections for the trust fund have typically exceeded FAA expenditures on
a historical basis, despite a long standing debate on the appropriate level of U.S. Treasury
General Fund support. The most recent reauthorization of aviation programs, the Wendell
H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (FAIR 21)(P.L. 106-
2 For a detailed discussion of agency budgets and activities see CRS Report RL31308,
Appropriations for FY2003:Transportation and Related Agencies.
to September 11th, was that even with this match the unobligated balance in the trust fund
would continue to increase.
Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). The PFC is essentially a local tax
received by the airport that can only be imposed with FAA approval. PFCs have been a
lucrative source of income for U.S. airports. At the beginning of February 2002, the FAA
was reporting that 330 airport locations were approved for PFC collection (310 were
actually collecting), on the basis of 1,015 separate approved applications. The total
amount approved for collection from these applications in the future is approximately $33
billion. Combined with increased AIP spending authorizations in FAIR21, PFCs have
gone a long way toward meeting assumed airport construction needs.
Transportation Security Administration Fees (TSA). Recently transferred
to the new Department of Homeland Security, the TSA remains a work in progress. It has
been charged with creating a federal transportation security presence for all modes of
transportation in a very short period of time. For the moment, most of TSA’s efforts are
focused on airline and airport security. By year end 2002, TSA had approximately 64,000
employees (well above a 45,000 level suggested by Congress) of whom 44,000 were
passenger or baggage screeners at airports. The agency also employees air marshals and
others whose primary function is to ensure the physical security of the aviation system.
Additionally, TSA is charged with procuring new equipment to facilitate explosive
detection and other security functions. The agency is likely to grow even further in the
years ahead as it assumes greater responsibility for security of surface and maritime
Other fees. Fees collected by Customs, INS, and APHIS are designed to pay for
the inspection services that each of these agencies provides. The revenue history in table
1 for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been left blank because INS
agency budget submissions do not appear to track this separately. The INS budget is
somewhat difficult to understand, due in part to changes in agency accounting practices
over the last few years. Also, the INS makes no attempt to separate its air and sea user
fee by mode. APHIS, on the other hand, has a very transparent process which is used to
set its inspection fees.
The airline industry has expressed considerable concern that a growing range of
federally imposed taxes and fees is having a major impact on their potential profitability.
This is not a new concern. The industry has expressed this view several times during the
last decade when new fees were imposed and existing fees were raised. The dramaticth
decline in the financial fortunes of the airline industry since September 11 has
reenergized industry complaints about high taxes and fees. Most recently the Chairman
of Delta Airlines has detailed the industry’s concern that the existing tax structure, is a
major barrier to industry profitability and needs to be revisited by Congress and the Bush3
Administration. The industry is especially concerned about the new security fees added
by ATSA and would like to see them repealed or otherwise mitigated.
3 Crawley, John. U.S. Airlines Want Tax Relief to Avert More Trouble. Reuters. December 11,
Security Fees. Security fees are the central issue in the ongoing discussion of the
airline industry’s request for assistance in dealing with their financial problems. The
airline industry is convinced that these fees are harmful to them and in some cases that
they are unreasonable. The industry contends that it is still paying for some security at
airports and that federal actions have greatly impacted the industry’s cost structure.
Potential federal actions, such as the cost of training pilots to handle firearms, are costs
that the industry believes the federal Treasury should bear.
The authors of ATSA thought they had created a framework that would pay for a
significant portion of the new TSA’s annual budget. The budgetary needs of TSA have,
so far, outstripped most of the funding needs estimates made at the time ATSA was
enacted. For FY2002, TSA required $2.2 billion in initial funding and an additional $3.4
billion in emergency supplemental funding. For FY2003 the Administration requested
$4.8 billion, but many observers believe additional funds will be required. ATSA
expected that $2.5 billion would come from the new security fees and be the primary
source of funding for the new agency. As can be seen in Table 1, the security fees are not
estimated to raise this amount in FY2002 and there is concern that the $2.5 billion may
not be raised in future years as well. An increase in the passenger security fee is
understandably opposed by the airline industry. In fact, as noted earlier, Congress has
recently suspended the aviation security fees for four months, 6/03 - 9/03. Congress is
left, therefore, with the issue of responding to TSA’s budgetary needs and at the same
time considering the airline industry’s continuing plea for fiscal relief.
Trust Fund Revenues. Airline traffic year-over-year between FY2001 and
FY2002 was down well over 10% and revenues were down 15%. FY2002 revenue
collections for the trust fund were down slightly more. A further drop in collections for
FY2003, as a result of the Iraq War and the SARS outbreak in Asia is also likely. As
mentioned earlier, FAA spending is closely linked to trust fund revenues as a result of
FAIR21. A drop in availability of trust fund monies could cause appropriators to seek
additional Treasury general fund monies for FAA programs, not an easy task in a budget
deficit situation. A continuing decrease in trust fund revenues could also have significant
implications for the next FAA program reauthorization expected during the 1st Session of
the 108th Congress.
Passenger Facility Charges. Airlines continue to oppose the imposition of
PFCs in some instances, especially when the projects approved have more application to
airport landside activities rather than to airside activities. In the current economic context
the airlines feel that PFC collections for what they consider nonessential projects are
exacerbating their financial problems. Others argue, however, that PFCs have, at least in
some instances, obviated the need for airports to raise landing fees charged to airlines in
order to build desired infrastructure.