House Democrats Warn of ATC Transformation Pitfalls

 - March 24, 2015, 11:01 AM

A key lawmaker is warning that FAA reauthorization is facing another series of delays and extensions if Capitol Hill attempts to tackle significant air traffic organization (ATO) reform without consensus. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House aviation subcommittee, said during a hearing on FAA air traffic reform today, “There are many issues to address with ATO reform, and I do not think any of our witnesses will tell us today that the diverse interests in the industry are coalescing around a single proposal.”

Without unity, though, he said, “I find it difficult to foresee an on-time FAA reauthorization bill if we are to tackle this topic.” He added that stakeholders must produce a proposal or risk “the chaotic path of multiple, short-term FAA bills.” Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also warned that a recent court decision raises constitutionality questions about delegating ATC functions outside the FAA. Nonetheless, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) reiterated his belief that the FAA needs "transformational change" that enables the ATO to operate more like a business, noting successes of numerous countries separating out their ATO.

Airlines For America and several think-tank leaders back a nonprofit or separate government-run structure that could take into account lessons learned from international models. Matt Hampton, U.S. DOT assistant inspector general for aviation audits, also cited the success of the international organizations, though he noted none have embarked on ATC modernization the size and scope of the FAA’s efforts. Also, he added, none involve the complexity of the U.S. airspace.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect A4A's position.