U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster has introduced a modified version of his legislation to privatize air traffic control.
The revised bill would spin off ATC from the FAA, creating a private non-profit corporation run by a board of directors nominated by the aviation industry and the federal government.
First introduced in February 2016, the bill died with little support from other lawmakers and lots of opposition from the general aviation community. But now, with President Trump’s backing, the reintroduced bill has more support than before due to changes that exempt general aviation from ATC user fees, according to the Pennsylvania Congressman.
But that’s not what the GA alphabet groups are saying.
The groups are united in opposing the bill, which is called the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform & Reauthorization Act (or AIRR Act.) Each was quick to release statements that this legislation is bad not only for GA, but for all aviation across the country.
“As we have previously stated, privatizing ATC is a bad solution in search of a nonexistent problem,” said Jack J. Pelton, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO and Chairman. “The unknown costs, transition, and fallout from this plan would be extremely harmful to general aviation. EAA supports modernization of the American airspace system, and progress is happening with the input of all the system’s stakeholders. This new legislation would do nothing to solve any current technology or efficiency issues, while undermining the world’s most extensive general aviation system and disrupting the world’s largest and safest air traffic control system.”
His words are echoed by Mark Baker, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association: “As the largest association of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, AOPA is focused on reforms to our air traffic system that will work for all users of the system. A privatization proposal that requires protections for a large segment of aviation has a high potential for unintended consequences, as well as increase costs and uncertainty. We will continue to work with the Administration, Congress, and industry stakeholders on reforms and efficiencies necessary to make certain our air traffic control system remains the envy of the world.”
National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen notes it is imperative that we don’t confused modernization with privatization.
“Our nation’s ATC system is and always will be a monopoly, and that monopoly must operate in the public’s best interest,” he said. “This bill proposes to strip control over that monopoly from the public’s elected representatives, and essentially hand sweeping authority to a group of private parties, which will likely make decisions based on their business interests.”
Bolen noted that among the many potentially harmful consequences of such an outcome are the possibility that access to the nation’s airports and airspace could become restricted.
“For a variety of reasons, we know that the citizens, companies and communities relying on general aviation for connectivity, civil services and other needs will be the ones most at risk if America’s aviation system is turned over to a private board largely unaccountable to Congress,” Bolen continued.
“NBAA has long supported implementation of targeted solutions to identified problems to ensure America’s aviation system remains the world’s best in all aspects, for the next five years, 10 years, 25 years and beyond. What we don’t support is a plan to give away control over the nation’s aviation system.”
While facing an onslaught of opposition from GA, Shuster also is missing critical support from the Senate.
The Hill recently reported that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who leads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the Senate’s long-term reauthorization of the FAA will not include the spinoff plan, citing the lack of support for the idea on his panel.
“We don’t have the votes to pass that in our committee at the moment,” the story quotes Thune.
Shuster told a reporter from a Pennsylvania newspaper that “it feels like the Senate is always in that position no matter what the issue is.”
He added he expects support to grow in the Senate once the revised legislation moves through the House.
Passage of some kind of FAA legislation is needed by Sept. 30, when the agency’s authorization expires. If a full bill isn’t passed by then, a short-term extension will be needed. That’s something that’s happened a whopping 23 times in the last five years.
The short-term extensions create uncertainty for the FAA, as well as make it difficult for long-term planning of projects, such as the NextGen efforts, which is transitioning ATC to satellite-based coverage with the use of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B).
The GA Statement
The joint statement, from EAA, AOPA, NBAA, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Helicopter Association International (HAI), reads:
General Aviation is an important American industry that generates over $219 billion in total economic output, supports 1.1 million jobs, and includes a network of thousands of airports and heliports that connect many rural communities to the rest of the world.
After a thorough and detailed review of Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) proposal to remove our nation’s air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we have concluded that these reforms, while well intentioned, will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.
We believe Chairman Shuster has raised the issue of reform in a meaningful and thoughtful manner and while we enjoy the safest most efficient air traffic control system in the world, we also believe that reforms, short of privatization, can better address the FAA’s need to improve its ability to modernize our system.
We have concluded that any structural and governance reforms that require protections for an important sector of users is fundamentally flawed.
In addition, the billions of dollars and time that would be spent transitioning our nation’s air traffic control system to a not-for-profit entity can be better applied to the continuing progress to update and modernize our air traffic control system.
Moreover, with strong bipartisan opposition in both the House and Senate to remove air traffic control operations from the FAA, we believe efforts should focus on developing a long-term FAA Reauthorization that creates the stability and funding necessary and that can reach the President’s desk for signature.
We are committed to addressing needed reforms that create predictable and stable funding for the FAA including biennial budgeting, consolidating unneeded and outdated facilities, procurement, and certification reforms, and putting to use some of the balance from the Airways and Airport Trust Fund to expedite technology deployment. We are ready and willing to work with all industry stakeholders and Congress to advance the consensus needed to improve our current system.
We strongly believe finding agreement on these reform issues will provide the FAA with the tools necessary to ensure that our nation’s air traffic control system remains the envy of the world.