TSA is implementing the increased security fee mandated by Congress. There is some controversy over the way it is being done and some debate about whether it is a fee (used to directly pay for services the users need and demand) or a tax (general revenue).

The airlines, naturally, argue it is a tax. They may even be right this time. As my friend Bob Poole from the Reason Foundation says, if the money goes into the general fund, it is a tax, and it is not clear this fee increase is buying any additional services. Indeed, when I was at ACI-NA, that was the test we used. If a proposed new or increased fee would buy new services, we were willing to contemplate support. If not, if it was just general revenue, then we would be opposed.

Although I have not yet seen the ads, I am told that the airlines are taking the campaign against the fee to new heights (or lows, as you prefer) by implying TSA and its employees are awash in resources and living high on the hog. Given the level of public support for TSA and aviation security, this may make a certain amount of sense as a political strategy, but frankly, it really is not right or fair.

All of this points to a system of funding our aviation infrastructure, safety and security that is wildly inefficient and liked by no one. But what happens is that every time one of the fees or taxes is considered, it is in isolation and is either supported or opposed by the usual suspects using the usual kinds of tactics. Whether it is the fees that support security, customs, immigration, and agricultural inspections, or the fees that support airport infrastructure or air traffic control, or some version that may behave more as a tax, each is debated and decided in isolation using the same old rhetoric. This just deepens cynicism and skepticism within the industry and the traveling public.

This really should be an opportunity for someone in government and/or industry to take a leadership role in bringing all parties together to take a good, hard look at the entire system by which we fund aviation in this country and come up with something that works better for everyone. Personally, I think the impetus must come from government. I know from painful personal experience that industry leaders trying to do this will be seen as simply advocating their own interests.

There is an FAA Reauthorization bill next year. I know that not all of these fees/taxes are normally included in such a bill, but many are. It is a perfect opportunity, pivoting from the energy being used to debate the increased security fee, to take just such a comprehensive look and come up with something better.

If, instead, all people do is run ads and accuse others of deception or worse, then we will just be deeper in a hole no one involved in aviation wants to be in.

Greg Principato blogs primarily on aviation and transportation security. His involvement in aviation and transportation infrastructure spans more than thirty years. He previously served as President of Airports Council International – North American from 2005 to 2013, where he oversaw the leading association of airports and airport-related businesses in North America, which enplane nearly all of the domestic and international airline passenger and cargo traffic on the continent. ACI-NA is the largest of the five worldwide regions of Airports Council International. Read More