Last updated: 12:15 PM ET, Fri February 26 2016

Air Traffic Control Privatization Bill Has Been Sidelined

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 26, 2016

Air Traffic Control Privatization Bill Has Been Sidelined

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

One of the biggest battles in the aviation world has been postponed, as senior Republicans have sidelined a bill that would have stripped the FAA of its oversight of the air traffic control system, placing it in the hands of a private non-profit corporation.

The bill had proven controversial, with the debate coming down to whether privatizing ATC gave too much power to the airlines. On the other side of the debate, the question raised was whether the FAA was even capable of making much-needed improvements to the nation's ATC.

The issue of privatization was to come up for a vote March 31 as part of a wider FAA funding bill, until legislators moved to sideline the bill and seek an extension of the FAA’s current authorities and funding. A short extension would allow them to bring the privatization idea up for a vote at a later date (after they have garnered more support). 

Momentum lost? 

According to Rep. Bill Shuster, the bill’s main author, there is currently not enough congressional support for ATC privatization. The Republican released a statement explaining the sidelining: “[The bill] proposes significant reform of our aviation system, and many current members of Congress have not seen a proposal such as this during recent FAA reauthorizations… we will continue working to educate members and address questions they have about the bill."  

READ MORE: Is Rep. Bill Shuster Getting Too Friendly With Airline Lobbyists?

Shuster is referring to members of both the House and Senate who are worried that privatizing ATC would not only take power away from the FAA, but also remove the influence that government has over America’s air travel infrastructure and the way that the industry operates. Members of both major parties have voice concerns about this issue. 

Growing in complexity

To further confuse the matter, the House Ways and Means Committee has recently said that it would actually be responsible for overseeing a private air traffic control corporation because the organization would impose fees on airlines and passengers in order to fund its operation. If it levied such fees, the corporation would be under the jurisdiction of Ways and Means, not the Transportation Committee.     

Shuster and his supporters had actually hoped to bring the bill to the House floor this week. Obviously that will not happen, but now it appears that a vote on this particular bill won’t even be taking place by March 31, the deadline for FAA reauthorization.  

READ MORE: USTA Welcomes FAA Extension, Urges Further Action

A competing FAA reauthorization bill on the horizon

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the chairman of the Commerce Committee John Thune, who is also a Republican, has said that he was planning on waiting for the House reauthorization bill before giving his input, but he may now introduce his own bill in order to make certain that there is no need for extensions or last-minute votes. 

According to Senate staffers, who spoke with members of the press on condition of anonymity, Thune’s version of the FAA reauthorization bill would not include any sort of ATC privatization. 

This is certainly not the end of the debate, especially given the strong lobbying effort in favor of ATC reform. However, those opposed to the privatization idea seem to have been able to kill the momentum for the time being. 


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