The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has announced that he is working to separate air traffic control (ATC) functions from the FAA as part of the ongoing FAA reauthorization process.
In his June 15 remarks before the Aero Club of Washington, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), proposed creating a not-for-profit, federally chartered corporation to operate and modernize ATC.
That corporation, he said, would be governed by a board of system users and would be funded through a user fee system separate from the congressional appropriations cycle.
The FAA would continue to set standards and oversee safety of the system.
“It’s one of our leading industries in this country and if we don’t do something transformational, we’ll start to lose that leadership in the world,” Shuster told the Washington Post before unveiling the plan Monday at the Aero Club in Washington. “We need to do something different.”
Shuster, in his speech to the Aero Club, acknowledged that other lawmakers and industry groups don’t always agree on the proposed changes at FAA.
“But we agree that continuing on the present course is the surest path to failure,” he said.
Officials at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) haven’t seen details of the proposed legislation. But in a released statement, AOPA Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Jim Coon said the association “believes the current method of collecting revenues through a tax on aviation fuel is not broken,” reiterating AOPA’s longstanding opposition to user fees for general aviation. “Moreover, we believe any air traffic system must preserve GA access to airports and airspace on a first-come, first-served basis, like we enjoy today.”
Shuster suggested that legislation to create a separate ATC organization as part of a larger FAA reauthorization proposal could be considered on the House floor in July. Before any reauthorization legislation can become law, it must also be approved by the Senate, which has not yet indicated whether it would support creating a separate ATC organization or announced a timeline for considering reauthorization legislation. Current FAA programs expire Sept. 30.
Many in the aviation community agree that the current system is less effective and efficient than it could be, but GA groups and some airlines are concerned about the potential impacts of creating a separate user-fee funded organization to manage air traffic.
“There is no doubt that the FAA has spent billions over the years on efforts to modernize our air traffic control system, and we recognize that change is needed to ensure continued U.S. leadership in aviation,” said Coon. “But we must avoid any unintended consequences for general aviation. We’ve seen issues in other countries where general aviation has been put aside and we can’t allow that to happen in this country.”