CBO Raises Cost Estimate of ATC Privatization to Almost $100 Billion

The original estimate, put at around $20 billion, turned out to be wildly off the mark after major revisions to the bill.

Maybe now Bill Shuster, Donald Trump, Elaine Chao and Sam Graves will finally give up on their plan to remove air traffic control from the FAA and hand it over to a nonprofit corporation. The four main backers of the proposal received some devastating news yesterday as the Congressional Budget Office revised its estimate of the impact on the deficit of Rep. Shuster’s 21st Century Airr Act from $20.7 billion over 10 years to $98.5 billion.

The ballooning costs of the bill came after several changes were slipped in that Democrats asked the CBO to review. The new cost estimate almost certainly assures that the bill as currently written will never reach a vote. Many Republicans and all Democrats opposed ATC privatization even when the CBO’s cost estimates were much lower. Now, with the math hopelessly out of whack, the bill appears all but dead as written.

General aviation leaders were quick to pounce on the new CBO report, noting it would turn over ATC to a non-profit corporation with a board heavily influenced by the country’s major airlines at a cost to taxpayers that makes no economic sense.

“A hundred billion dollars? Really?” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “So here’s how it shapes up: The legislation would hand over the air traffic control system to the airlines, who are behind in equipping with the latest technology and responsible for 50 percent of delays; it would create a too-big-to-fail monopoly; and now it will cost taxpayers almost $100 billion dollars to create a new system when the one we have is the envy of the world. How can anyone think this is a good idea? Imagine if we used that effort and money to continue modernizing an incredibly safe system that is already the envy of the world. Then we’d really have something.”

President Trump and Transportation Secretary Chao are continuing to press for ATC privatization as part of a broad infrastructure overhaul. Shuster along with Graves, the Republican co-chair of the GA Caucus who was originally against ATC privatization but is now for it, will certainly seek to make adjustments to the bill when they return from summer recess next month.

But with the CBO’s revised report, tepid support for ATC privatization in Congress and a president who hasn’t exactly been making friends in Congress of late, there appears little chance of the 21st Airr Act of gaining any sort of meaningful traction anytime soon.