The headline would appear to present good news, and a new spirit of cooperation in Congress; but is another example of our government kicking the can down the road until congress again addresses the ways and means to upgrade our Air Traffic Control System to meet the needs of aviation in the 21st century.
The bill will continue to fund the FAA for six months, and the issue of ATC development and privatization will again be debated in October. However, as Forbe’s Magazine’s Travel Editor, Dan Reed wrote the last time this strategy was adopted by Congress; “the ATC Privatization effort is now on life support.”
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) in a Press Release dated February 28th, 2018 applauded the move to remove ATC Privatization from the bill.
The following summarizes a statement that can be attributed to National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President Martin H. Hiller following an announcement from House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster on his commitment to work with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune to pass a comprehensive long-term FAA reauthorization bill providing stable funding for the agency that does not include the proposal to privatize air traffic control:*
“While NATA is deeply appreciative of the courtesies shown general aviation in Chairman Shuster’s FAA reauthorization bill, we commend the Chairman for putting differences aside and his commitment to work with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune to pass a comprehensive long-term FAA reauthorization bill that provides needed stability to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that does not include air traffic control privatization. NATA is committed to working with Chairmen Shuster and Thune and Congress to ensure the United States maintains our status as the world’s safest airspace system in the world.”
“This is a victory for the general aviation industry, and our success is due to the hard work and collaboration of our members across the country who wrote, called and met with their Members of Congress to explain the detrimental impact this proposal would have on our industry. We also praise the tireless efforts of Members of Congress who listened to the concerns of the aviation business community and advocated on our behalf. This win for the general aviation community shows what can be achieved when we all pull together toward a common goal, ensuring our airspace system remains for the benefit of all users. NATA also thanks those that collaborated with us in a coordinated industry effort, including NBAA, AOPA, EAA, HAI, and GAMA.”
The fact remains however that this short extension guarantees another deadline for Congress to grapple within 2018.
The bill, which will be considered in the House first, then the Senate, extends a prior short-term authorization passed in July 2016, which keeps the FAA operating until Sept. 30.
Said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; “ Congress needs to pass an FAA extension next week, which will be necessary to prevent any potential lapse in FAA programs or furloughing FAA employees across the country; details of the extension are still to be worked out.”
House Republicans, backed by President Trump, included a provision in their long-term FAA bill authored by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., that would create a non-profit board to run air traffic control. Such a system is in place in other countries, including Canada. Proponents say it will give air traffic controllers the autonomy to generate funds and upgrade their badly outdated tracking system, in which controllers still trade tiny paper tickets to keep tabs on aircraft.
While Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., backs privatization, there is still opposition among GOP lawmakers who are under pressure from the private aircraft industry. They oppose moving air traffic control out from under the FAA because they fear reduced access to airports and higher fees.
“Today, that authority resides with the American public’s elected representatives,” National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen said. “Congress should not abdicate, delegate, or outsource its responsibility in the areas of aviation taxes and fees.”
A GOP aide disputed Bolen’s criticism, noting the makeup of the board would be balanced among general aviation, the major airlines, and others.
If the privatized concept is not going to pass muster in Congress, the development and speedy delivery of FAA’s version of NextGen is critical. Most developed countries have a modern ATC system already in operation. As one US carrier airline pilot flying out of Canadian Airspace to American airspace complained; “It is like leaving a modern traffic control system to one operating in a third world country.”