Senate Aviation Panel Chair Cruz Seeks Consensus on ATC

 - October 4, 2019, 12:14 PM

Senate aviation subcommittee chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently resurrected the conversation about reform of the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system, expressing a belief that the U.S. could learn from ATC reforms conducted in numerous other countries and that a “win-win” scenario could be achieved.

In a recent hearing on the status of the system, Cruz said he isn’t interested in a rehash of old fights surrounding proposals for privatization and/or user fees but in resetting the conversation. “My hope is we can reach a policy solution where all stakeholders can come together and…get a better outcome than we have today,” he said.

Testifying before the committee, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Mark Baker agreed that the old fight “has [divided] and will continue to divide us” and added that the ATC system is a public system “that should benefit all users not just some.” He noted general aviation restrictions that have resulted in other countries and said, “We don’t want to go down that path.”

Further, Baker added, that of all the issues mentioned by members, “our ATC system is not one of them.” Instead of privatization, he pushed for expanding capacity at high-use airports and preserving the ecosystem of 5,000 airports.

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen also told the Senate panel NBAA supported “targeted solutions to identified problems” such as bills in both the House and Senate, the Aviation Funding Stability Act, which would enable trust fund dollars to continue funding the FAA should the federal government’s funding lapse again.

A significant concern to Bolen, he added, is that privacy protections become implemented as the U.S. continues to transition into an ADS-B Out operating system.

“Our work has paid off, with nearly 70 percent of turbojet and turboprop business aircraft now ADS-B equipped according to the FAA’s Equip 2020 working group, an increase of nearly 15 percent since the beginning of this year,” Bolen said, noting safeguards are necessary to ensure privacy from real-time tracking.

Trish Gilbert, executive v-p for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, added most corners of the industry support S.762 to preserve FAA funding in times of government shutdown. “Even today, the FAA and NATCA are working to reverse the harm caused by the shutdown [that occurred earlier this year], when all FAA modernization work and new user integration ceased,” she said.

Sharon Pinkerton, senior v-p of legislative and regulatory policy for Airlines for America, noted Congress opted for another direction than reform proposals supported by A4A. But Pinkerton stressed the association hopes to work with stakeholders to drive consensus on areas where they can agree.

“We are now challenged to fill the void left by a lack of transformational reform and instead are focusing our efforts on making the best of the status quo,” she said in her testimony. "We still believe the FAA needs to have clear and measurable goals for our ATC system…The challenge moving forward is answering the difficult policy questions like, ‘What is that plan [including cost and timing]?’ and ‘How do we measure success?’”