Look Ahead: ATC Debate To Heat Up Early in 2018

 - January 2, 2018, 7:33 AM

The first three months of 2018 will be a critical period in the debate surrounding the organization of the U.S. air traffic control system. Congress is facing a March 31 deadline to resolve lawmakers' differences on the proposal that was tucked into comprehensive long-term FAA reauthorization legislation. The FAA is operating on a short-term extension of its authorization, but that is set to expire March 31.

While Congress could simply adopt another short-term extension, many believe that lawmakers lack the political will to continue down that path. 

Opponents to the ATC measure are hopeful that lawmakers may move ahead on comprehensive reauthorization without the measure, if a resolution cannot be achieved before the March 31 deadline.

This sets the stage for an intense period of lobbying—on both sides of the ATC issue—in the first quarter of 2018 as lawmakers seek to come to a resolution on whether to create an independent, user-funded ATC organization. 

Aside from the ATC proposal and a few other provisions, House and Senate versions of comprehensive FAA reauthorization legislation have strong support from industry and on Capitol Hill. While the ATC proposal hamstrung progress of the House FAA reauthorization bill, the Senate bill has stumbled on a measure to ease the 1,500-hour requirement for air transport pilots. However, most believe that is the easier of the two issues to resolve.

The Senate has awaited House action, but Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) is believed to be ready to move the Senate bill early in the year in the absence of a House vote.

Even if Congress were to move on reauthorization without the ATC proposal, other options are available to the architect of the proposal, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), including a massive infrastructure package that is in the works. However, the prospects of success for such a package have been unclear.

Shuster will make a formidable push for the ATC proposal this year, his last as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Many speculate that if unsuccessful this year, the issue may be shelved, at least for the time being.

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen has repeatedly called the proposal “a bad idea” and asserts that in Washington, such ideas never go away.