United States President Donald Trump’s plans to privatize the country’s air traffic control system are expected to face an uphill battle in Congress.
Trump introduced the plan last week, saying that it would make travel easier and less expensive for Americans. The plan includes creating a nonprofit organization to run air traffic control at the nation’s airports, removing the responsibility away from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The plan takes after one created by Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who is Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Privatizing air traffic control systems has been a major priority for Shuster for years, and he’s planning to include it in a bill to reauthorize the FAA. That bill must be done by Sept. 20.
“The current FAA authorization expires on September 30th, making an FAA bill a must-pass piece of legislation”, said Justin Harclerode, spokesman for the committee.
“Chairman Shuster plans to introduce a comprehensive FAA authorization and reform bill, that will include this key reform, with that September 30th deadline in mind.”
However, air traffic control privatization is already facing opposition from a powerful senator inside Shuster’s party: Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a top member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which will be the Senate committee responsible for FAA reauthorization.
In the wake of President Trump’s White House speech, Inhofe has indicated that he’s not looking to include air traffic control privatization in the FAA reauthorization bill.
“FAA reauthorization has a deadline”, he noted. “We’ve attempted to take things that are controversial out of the FAA reauthorization.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a part of the reauthorization because it has become very controversial”, Inhofe said. “I think right now they’re just in the vote-counting stage”, he continued.
The measure was included in an FAA reauthorization bill in the last congressional session by Shuster, but was removed in order to get the bill through Congress. The plan has the backing of major airlines and the air traffic control workers’ union, but is being resisted by consumer advocate groups.
Under Shuster’s proposal, the private company would be chartered by Congress and have an 11-member board of directors.
The board would be composed of four people chosen by major airlines, two selected by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, one tapped by the Airline Pilots Association International union, another appointed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, two at-large appointees and the CEO of the corporation, who would be appointed by the board.
Privatizing the air traffic control system would accelerate the switch to a GPS-based system, which is already happening through the NextGen reforms to the air traffic control system being implemented by the FAA through 2025. Switching to a GPS-based system makes for straighter flight paths and simpler elevation levels that will lessen fuel costs and flight times, the Trump administration said.
Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, expressed he’s in favor of the plan to privatize air traffic control in order to hasten those changes.
“The Federal Aviation Administration’s effort to improve air travel safety and efficiency by modernizing air traffic control has been hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and poor planning. While we’ve spent billions on upgrades, independent assessments have warned that the promised benefits for the flying public may never be realized if we continue on under the status quo. As we move forward in discussing potential reforms, getting a bill to President Trump’s desk will require bipartisan support as well as a consensus among the aviation community on a way forward”, Thune said in a statement.
Trump’s influence may be necessary to push through this intraparty fight. Harclerode said Trump has already pushed forward air traffic control privatization by using the White House bully pulpit to address the proposal.
“The president’s support and leadership is important, without a doubt”, Harclerode said.
“Making this issue a priority calls more attention to the fact that our outdated, inefficient aviation system still utilizes technology from the middle of the last century, that our air traffic controllers use paper strips to manage the flow of air traffic, and that the federal government has wasted billions and billions of taxpayer dollars trying to modernize the system for 30 years.”
Several influential supporters are already moving their weight behind the proposal in a push to get it ratified by the end of the fiscal year.
Americans for Prosperity, the primary advocacy group run by the Koch brothers, announced their plan to work on Trump’s behalf to push privatization. Vice President of External Affairs Christine Harbin said the proposal would help prevent unnecessary spending.
“We look forward to working constructively with the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill to balance the need to protect taxpayers while meeting the country’s infrastructure needs”, she announced in a statement.
“This includes pursuing modernization and privatization where possible, as seen in today’s ATC announcement. Working together, we can prevent past mistakes like the wasteful spending of the Obama stimulus and find opportunities to roll back the red tape that delays projects and drives up costs.”