With President Trump’s proposal to take the nation’s air traffic control system out of government hands failing to gain traction in the Senate, the idea’s chief advocate in the House pressed ahead Wednesday with legislation of his own.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he aims to get a bill through his committee and the full House and then start “changing some minds” in the Senate.
But even some powerful Republican members of the House have recently come out against the idea.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who heads the appropriations subcommittee covering transportation issues, said last week that moving air traffic control to a corporation would shield operations from vital congressional oversight and make those in charge less accountable.
“I’m concerned the proposal would reduce, or even eliminate, the public’s voice,” Diaz-Balart argued at a budget hearing.
Shuster sought to parry such concerns, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration would still have a safety oversight role even after air traffic controllers and technology workers are shifted to a corporation.
“We don’t take anything away from the appropriators,” Shuster said. “The FAA will stay there. We’re taking the service part of it out.”
Putting air traffic under a federally chartered corporation, Shuster said, would save travelers’ time and make the use of airspace and the adoption of technology more efficient.
Opponents say it is unwise and unnecessary to upend a safe and complex system by pulling it outside of the government.
Shuster said President Trump’s support should give the idea momentum.
“When there’s presidential leadership on any issue, you get members of Congress to engage,” Shuster said Wednesday.
The chairman said his bill addresses a key concern of the general aviation industry by excluding private planes from a new user fee that would be used to fund air traffic control operations under his proposal.
Instead, such flights would remain under already existing tax-and-fee arrangements. Shuster’s proposal also gives a seat on the new corporation’s governing board to a person representing general aviation and another to someone specifically representing business aviation, he said. Those accommodations secured the support of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a key supporter of general aviation, Shuster said.
But a wide range of general aviation groups, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, rejected Shuster’s bill in a statement Wednesday.
Citing “strong bipartisan opposition in both the House and Senate to remove air traffic control operations from the FAA,” the groups said the proposal “will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.”
The groups also said “reforms, short of privatization, can better address the FAA’s need to improve its ability to modernize our system.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has said there are not enough votes to pass the air traffic control proposal in the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which he chairs. The matter could be taken up on the Senate floor or in a conference committee.
Shuster’s aviation funding bill also addresses the furor caused when a passenger was bloodied as he was dragged off a United flight. It prohibits airlines from involuntarily removing passengers from planes.
A draft of the bill says “it shall be an unfair or deceptive practice . . . to involuntarily deplane a revenue passenger onboard an aircraft” if the person “is traveling on a confirmed reservation [and] checked-in for the relevant flight prior to the check-in deadline.”