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UNLOCK THE AVIATION TRUST FUND

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The federal government is sitting on a $6.9 billion aviation trust fund earmarked for improving airports and the nation's air traffic control system.

The main reason for not spending the money is that keeping it uncommitted helps make the national budget deficit appear smaller. But, of course, the appearance is deceptive.Wisely, Sen. Wendell Ford of Kentucky has introduced S.1600, a bill that would force the government to spend the money. A coalition of aviation industry organizations launched a campaign the other day to break loose the fund, which is financed by an 8 percent tax on airline tickets.

The coalition wants air travelers to send Congress their used tickets with a sticker attached saying: "I paid the 8 percent ticket tax. I support S.1600."

The coalition is on the right track. If air travelers must shell out an extra eight cents on every dollar they spend for fares, they have a right to expect that the money will be spent to improve the overburdened air travel system, not used to help create a budgetary illusion.