With Air Traffic Control Proposal Faltering in Senate, Chief House Proponent Presses Ahead
June 21, 2017
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  • With President Trump’s proposal to take the nation’s air traffic control system out of government hands faltering in the Senate, the idea’s chief advocate in the House pressed ahead Wednesday with legislation of his own.

    House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he has his sights set on getting a bill passed through his committee and the full House, then hopes to start “changing some minds” in the senate.

    But even some powerful Republican members of the House have recently come out against the idea.

    Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida), who heads the appropriations subcommittee covering transportation issues, said last week that moving air traffic control to a corporation would shield operations from vital congressional oversight and make them less accountable.

    “I’m concerned the proposal would reduce, or even eliminate, the public’s voice,” Diaz-Balart argued at a budget hearing.

    Shuster sought to parry such concerns, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration would still have a safety oversight role even after air traffic controllers and technology workers are shifted to a corporation.

    “We don’t take anything away from the appropriators,” Shuster said. “The FAA will stay there. We’re taking the service part of it out.”

    Shuster said putting air traffic under a federally chartered corporation would save fuel and travelers’ time and make the airspace and adoption of technology more efficient.

    Opponents say it is unwise and unnecessary to upend a safe and complex system by pulling it outside of the government.

    Shuster said President Trump’s support should give the idea momentum.

    “When there’s presidential leadership on any issue, you get members of Congress to engage,” Shuster said Wednesday.

    Shuster said his bill addresses a key concern of the general aviation industry by excluding private planes from a new user fee that would be used to fund air traffic control operations under his proposal. 

    Instead, such flights would remain under already existing tax and fee arrangements. Shuster’s proposal also gives a seat on the new corporation’s governing board to person representing the interests of general aviation and another representing business aviation, he said. Those accommodations secured the support of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), a key general aviation supporter, Shuster said.

    But a wide range of general aviation groups, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, rejected Shuster’s bill in a statement Wednesday.

    Citing “strong bipartisan opposition in both the House and Senate to remove air traffic control operations from the FAA,” the groups said the proposal “will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.”

    The groups also said “reforms, short of privatization, can better address the FAA’s need to improve its ability to modernize our system.”

    The proposal to shift air traffic control outside government lacked enough support to be included in a long-term aviation funding bill now moving through a key Senate committee.

    Shuster’s aviation funding bill also addresses the furor caused when a passenger was bloodied as he was dragged off a United flight by prohibiting airlines from involuntarily removing passengers from a plane.

    A draft of the bill says “it shall be an unfair or deceptive practice … to involuntarily deplane a revenue passenger onboard an aircraft” if the person “is traveling on a confirmed reservation [and] checked-in for the relevant flight prior to the check-in deadline.”