New ATC Reform Proposal Draws Same Fire from Opponents

 - June 22, 2017, 10:21 AM

Despite the move to address some of the larger concerns with the latest proposal to create an independent, user-funded organization to run the U.S. air traffic control system, key Democrats and the business and general aviation community remain firmly opposed to the concept.

House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) yesterday rolled out a comprehensive six-year FAA reauthorization bill that includes an ATC reform proposal that would provide protections for airspace access and exempt Part 91 and 135 from new users fees. The proposal also included a new management board structure that had representation from a cross-section of industry. Shuster said the new proposal had captured new backers, notably Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), who is a chief general aviation advocate on Capitol Hill.

However, Rep. Pete DeFazio, the top Democrat on the T&I Committee, remained skeptical, saying the new proposal “does nothing to address the major concerns raised by a bipartisan group of opponents about whether air traffic control privatization would guarantee safety, protect national security, expedite new technology and keep our aviation system solvent.” He added that the proposal would “tear apart the FAA and jeopardize aviation safety.”

Specifically, DeFazio said the proposal, like the previous one, would leave the rest of the FAA vulnerable to budget cuts and would create a scenario where billions of dollars in government assets would be handed over to a private corporation.

Six business and general aviation organizations, meanwhile, acknowledged Shuster's efforts to reach a compromise. “We believe chairman Shuster has raised the issue of reform in a meaningful and thoughtful manner,” they said in a joint statement. But, they added, “Any structural and governance reforms that require protections for an important sector of users is fundamentally flawed.” The cost and time spent during a transition of such a restructuring could be better applied to continuing progress in modernization, they said.

The groups—AOPA, EAA, GAMA, HAI, NATA and NBAA—however, added they do believe meaningful reforms could be achieved “short of privatization,” saying, “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.”

DeFazio also has backed alternative reforms, earlier this month unveiling his own proposal that would provide for procurement and personnel reform and take the FAA “off budget,” which would free up aviation trust fund revenues and shield the agency’s budget from sequestration and other cuts.

And, the Senate also has yet to jump on board. An early draft of the Senate version of a comprehensive four-year FAA reauthorization bill includes a number of provisions examining NextGen priorities and management, but does not include any similar provision to reform the ATC organization.

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to consider its version of the FAA bill on June 28, a day after the House T&I Committee will bring its bill up for a vote.