Air Traffic Control Privatization Debated In Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing February 10, 2016 to review the air traffic control reform proposal contained in the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016. Committee members, who are largely divided along party lines on the issue, questioned witnesses and offered contrasting views on the potential impacts of the reform.

“I think we’re on the same page on many reforms and provisions [in the AIRR Act]. We do have an honest policy disagreement on the approach to fixing ATC,” said Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). The chairman, however, asserted that the “time is now” to undertake comprehensive reform and noted that “more than 50 other countries have successfully done this, with benefits across the board in safety, modernized systems, efficiency, service, and costs.”

Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) raised numerous concerns about the proposal during the hearing, including the plan to turn over $30 to $50 billion in assets to the new air traffic control entity at no cost. Aviation Subcommittee ranking member, Rick Larsen (D-WA), referred to the privatization proposal as a “science experiment with a lot of potential for things to go wrong.” And, he questioned why the Department of Defense (DOD) did not have a seat on the governing board given that they currently control almost 15 percent of the airspace.

Two Republicans, Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Todd Rokita (R-IN), objected to the inclusion of “user fees” on Part 135 operators, citing that this is, in fact, a segment of general aviation.

Airlines for America (A4A) President and CEO, Nicholas Calio, testified that the bill will “make NextGen a reality, instead of an unrealized dream, and that Congress cannot fix NextGen through annual appropriations bills, the FAA Reauthorization Bill or additional oversight.

Ed Bolen, President/CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), testified in opposition to ATC reform and what he sees as an imbalance in representation should ATC be privatized. “The question on the table is, who will effectively control this monopoly, and for whose benefit?” asked Bolen. “H.R. 4441 would take control of the nation’s air traffic system away from the public’s elected representatives and give it away, for free, to a board dominated by big airlines.” Bolen acknowledged that while status quo is not sufficient, NBAA supports more targeted reform.

Chairman Shuster disagreed with Bolen, stating that only 4 of the 10 seats would be held by the airlines.

Bolen responded by saying that with the added board seat appointed by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and a CEO to be appointed by this board, this is essentially effective control by the airlines.

Airlines for America President Calio stated: “Well to many people, two general aviation [spots] seems like an awful lot given the use of the airspace and who pays what for the airspace. Frankly, we thought we should’ve had more seats.”

Despite the division within the committee, the chairman was to proceed with the markup on February 11, and over 91 amendments have been filed (NASAO).

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