Shuster Unveils New ATC Proposal with Fee Exemptions

 - June 21, 2017, 1:15 PM

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee today unveiled a new air traffic control (ATC) reform proposal that would carve the organization out of the FAA, but attempts to assuage concerns of business and general aviation and rural organizations by exempting Part 91 and 135 from new user fees and including access protections.

The proposal is included in a comprehensive six-year FAA reauthorization bill—the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reuthorization Act—that also will address key issues such as the FAA’s certification process, unmanned aircraft systems, safety and consumer issues.

T&I chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) detailed the bill during a gathering with reporters today, saying, “It’s time to put the American people ahead of Washington bureaucracy. It is about saving the taxpayers money. For too many years we’ve put money into the FAA to develop new technology and got very little back. It's about creating American jobs, it's about unleashing innovation and it's about putting the traveling public ahead of the dysfunction here in Washington, D.C.”

Shuster added that the reauthorization package “improves upon the bill we put forth in the last Congress,” and said the new version has picked up support from House appropriators, captured interest of Democrats and received critical backing of General Aviation Caucus co-chair Sam Graves (R-Missouri). It also has support from House leaders and the White House. The changes are the culmination of more than 150 meetings and six hearings, he added.

The ATC reform proposal is largely based on the proposal that faltered in the House last year. But the changes in this year’s bill represent a series of compromises designed to reach some of the most vocal critics. This year's proposal is similar to last year's in that the new ATC organization would be run by the board, but Shuster said the board would have more transparency. The makeup of the 13-member board would be different, with one seat each to be given to people nominated by Part 121 carriers, cargo carriers, regional carriers, airports, business aviation and general aviation, along with the air traffic controllers and pilot unions. The Department of Transportation would get to appoint two members. Two “at large” seats will be set aside, ostensibly for people with financial backgrounds. The board would be led by a CEO.

As for the fee structure, Part 91 and 135 operators would pay the existing excise taxes to support the remaining FAA functions and the Airport Improvement Program. Last year's proposal had exemptions for general aviation but would have assessed the user fees on the Part 135 comunity. Also believed to remain intact are the $4.10 per-segment passenger fee and international overflight fees, among other taxes. Shuster said these taxes would be hashed out with the House Ways and Means Committee.

The airline ticket tax, however, would transition to a user-fee system for Part 121 carriers to fund the new organization. A two-thirds super majority vote of the board will be required to raise the airline user fees.

The proposal also includes language guaranteeing access for small operators and to small communities and establishes a three-part oversight process. Shuster emphasized that he represents a rural district and wants to protect his constituents. He also noted opportunities in the future with the emergence of remote towers.

Shuster plans to bring the bill up for committee review on June 27 and hopes to have it receive full consideration on the House floor in mid-July. He concedes that he has not yet received input from general aviation groups on the bill.