NATCA Edgy Over Continued Funding Debate

Some details released of Rep. Bill Shuster’s Airport & Airways Extension Act.

phoenix atc
The NATCA is calling for the FAA extension to be passed swiftly and for the game of "political chicken" to end.NATCA

With past memories of FAA funding chaos lately being refreshed in people’s minds, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association yesterday reminded stakeholders that, “Prior to passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95), our 24/7 aviation system was forced to overcome 23 authorization extensions, including a partial shutdown.” The association called for swift passage of the funding extension necessary to keep the FAA in business past midnight this Saturday.

A House vote on reauthorization failed however, Monday night. Politco reported this morning that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi panned the measure (H.R. 3284) saying it was "laden with completely unrelated and inadequate items." In a letter to Democrats, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, top Transportation Committee Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and other Democratic committee leaders opposed what they described as a "partisan package of extraneous provisions." House Speaker Paul Ryan fired back, saying Dems "are willing to shut down air traffic control to make a political point."

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) on Friday released details of the Airport & Airway Extension Act of 2017 created to do just that by extending for six months, excise taxes, the agency's Airport Improvement Programme, FAA operations and cash for programs like Contract Towers, Essential Air Service and Small Community Air Service.

Details of the ACT represent only words on paper unless Congress votes to pass the funding legislation. “NATCA is concerned that once again, the FAA authorization process has turned into a game of political chicken,” the association said in a statement. “We must have a stable, predictable funding stream for the FAA and its employees to operate and maintain the safest, most efficient, most complex, most diverse National Airspace System (NAS) in the world.

“If FAA’s authorization is not extended, employees will be furloughed and some FAA services will be suspended. The FAA also will lose the ability to generate revenue into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund through the collection of aviation ticket and fuel taxes. Even if Congress avoids an FAA shutdown, the preparation for a shutdown takes critical resources away from FAA’s mission. This is especially unacceptable because it comes at a time when FAA employees have worked tirelessly to restore aviation services in areas that have been devastated by recent hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands."

While not calling outright for support of the ongoing effort to sever ATC from the rest of the FAA, NATCA did take the time to nudge stakeholders about its position on the future of ATC. “The FAA should not be subject to shutdown threats, based on issues that have nothing to do with aviation. This situation highlights the importance of NATCA’s call for a stable, predictable funding stream that adequately supports air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure.”