ATC Privatization Continues to Find Opposition Among Aviation Groups and Politicians

Rep. Bill Shuster’s AIRR Act made it out of committee and will now be considered for a vote on the House floor. Bill Shuster/Facebook

Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (AIRR Act) was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week with a 32-25 vote, and it will now move on to a vote on the House floor. It’s a significant step forward for Shuster’s push for ATC privatization, as his similar 2016 bill failed to pass committee, and some of his previous opponents now support this new version. Most notably, House General Aviation Caucus Co-Chairman Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) is co-sponsoring the AIRR Act after voting against Shuster’s 2016 effort.

Still, the effort to privatize ATC has opponents in the House, including Miami’s Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), who has supported President Trump on many issues. He just does not share the president’s belief that air traffic control should be controlled by a non-profit corporate entity.

"It's not privatization," Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald. "It's a monopoly, and it will remain a monopoly as opposed to being a monopoly being run by the public sector. It will be a monopoly run by private interests with zero oversight. There's still no competition."

Airlines for America, one of the leading proponents for ATC privatization, doesn't see Diaz-Balart as a real threat to stopping the AIRR Act before it hits the floor, but even if the bill passes it will still be up against the Senate's own FAA reauthorization plan, which also advanced out of committee last week and excludes ATC privatization. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2017 has been praised by aviation groups, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, a GA pilot, called the Senate's bill "a win for the general aviation community."

As for the AIRR Act, aviation groups remain staunchly opposed, primarily because it would hand the nation’s air traffic control system over to a non-profit corporation. In response to the committee’s vote, AOPA president Mark Baker last week called on its members to contact their members of Congress to oppose ATC privatization.

"It's important that all our members join us in standing up for general aviation and protecting our freedom to fly," Baker said. "We support modernization, not privatization… Turning over ATC to a private corporation managed by the airlines will lead to a decline in rural access and will damage GA, as we have seen in every nation that has tried it before."

Flying shares the AOPA's concern and also strongly urges pilots to contact their members of Congress immediately.

Additionally, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) announced on Monday that it was joining 33 other GA groups in issuing a joint statement in opposition to Shuster's AIRR Act and the ongoing effort to privatize ATC.

"After a thorough and detailed review of Chairman Bill Shuster's (R-PA) proposal, H.R. 2997, the AIRR Act of 2017, which would remove our nation's air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we have concluded that these reforms will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes," the statement reads.

“While we enjoy the safest most efficient air traffic control system in the world, we also believe that reforms, short of privatization, can better address the FAA’s need to improve its ability to modernize our system.”

The organizations believe that the estimated billions of dollars that would be spent transitioning the ATC system to a non-profit entity would be better spent simply continuing the upgrades to the current system, something that the AOPA's Baker said is slowed down not by the FAA, but the airlines themselves.

While the same aviation groups have also endorsed and voiced support for the Senate's FAA reauthorization bill, which excludes ATC privatization, the House's bill has gained endorsements from the NATCA and ALPA.

This article has been updated.


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