Biden Takes Aim at SpaceX’s Tax-Free Ride in American Airspace

Every time a rocket soars into the sky carrying satellites or supplies for the International Space Station, air traffic controllers on the ground must take crucial steps to ensure that commercial and passenger aircraft remain safe.

The controllers, hired by the Federal Aviation Administration, close the airspace, provide real-time information on rockets and their debris and then reopen the airspace quickly after a launch is completed.

But unlike airlines, which pay federal taxes for air traffic controllers’ work for each time their planes take off, commercial space companies are not required to pay for their launches. That includes companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has launched more than 300 rockets over the past 15 years that often carried satellites for its Starlink internet service.

The Biden administration is looking to change that. President Biden’s latest budget proposal, released last month, suggests that for-profit space companies start paying for their use of government resources.

Commercial space companies are exempt from aviation excise taxes that fill the coffers of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which pays for the F.A.A.’s work and will get roughly $18 billion in tax revenues for the current fiscal year. The taxes are paid primarily by commercial airlines, which are charged 7.5 percent of each ticket price and an additional fee of about $5 to $20 per passenger, depending on the destination of each flight.

Mr. Biden’s budget proposal vows to work with Congress to overhaul the tax structure and split the cost of operating the nation’s air traffic control system. His promise is based in part on an independent safety review report commissioned by the F.A.A., which advises that the federal government update the excise taxes to charge commercial space companies.

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