U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee officials are hopeful of bringing their comprehensive six-year FAA reauthorization bill, complete with the air traffic control reorganization provision, to the floor for a vote possibly next week. The House Rules Committee reopened the bill to potential amendments, establishing a deadline of 3 p.m. today. By early this morning, nearly 146 amendments had been filed for possible consideration, including one offered by Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the T&I Committee, to strip out the ATC measure and replace it with another provision to provide more certainty for FAA funding.
The Rules Committee, which sets the parameters for House debate and amendments, is the final step before a vote. But no hearing on the bill has been set yet and it remains unclear how close the vote will be at this point.
Earlier this week, T&I chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) took to the floor to plead his case for the ATC measure. Also this week, the T&I committee released a letter providing an important endorsement for the ATC reorganization provision from the business aviation community. Alan Bobo, NetJets' director of operations and executive v-p, wrote the committee saying, “We welcome your innovative approach to modernizing and reforming the current system. We appreciate your work to ensure the continued safety and innovation of our airspace, all while preserving the interests of general aviation; namely, an improved board selection process, an exemption from user fees for general aviation and access protection for small airports.”
At the same time, however, House Democrats highlighted an editorial from Garmin president and CEO Cliff Pemble. In the editorial, placed in the Washington insider publication The Hill, Pemble wrote, "Dismantling our current air traffic control system and placing it under the control of the airlines threatens jobs, the economy and fair access to the nation's airspace. Congress should be running away from H.R.2997."
In response to Shuster’s statement this week, Bill Deere, executive v-p of government and external affairs for the National Air Transportation Association, noted that while the association respect’s Shuster’s goal of a better ATC system, “This isn’t ‘Let’s Make A Deal,’ where you simply add provisions until general aviation agrees.” More than 150 organizations back efforts to improve ATC, Deere added, “But we have looked at the same fact set and believe that targeted solutions to identified challenges will make the FAA a more efficient agency without having to resort to a controversial proposal like ATC privatization.“
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, meanwhile, yesterday released a statement representing nearly 200 organizations that remain strongly opposed to the ATC reform effort. The organizations, the statement said, join a coalition of mayors, small airports, conservative groups, unions and businesses, that believe the proposal is a “fatally flawed concept” and fear that the system would be handed over “to a board governed by special interests and unaccountable to Congress, hiding under the banner of so-called ‘privatization.’”
The board would have unilateral power to set and collect revenues and direct resources, putting small communities at risk, the statement said. “Despite what proponents argue, this proposed board would ultimately control access to airports and airspace with a cursory safety review by DOT.”