House shoots down plan to privatized ATC, fight with GA still ongoing
Tuesday, March 01, 2016
Last week, House Republicans seemed to have shot down a controversial plan to peel off the nation's air traffic control (ATC) system from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, the war seems to be raging on as supporters of the proposal announced March 1 that the broad, sweeping six-year aviation industry reauthorization proposal would still try to push forward.
Republicans on the House Transportation Committee had been arguing that it was necessary to create a new nongovernmental organization that in three years would have taken over air traffic control from the FAA.
Citing the FAA's slow implementation of NextGen technology and reports of ineffective management, House Republicans, led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), introduced the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act on Feb. 3.
The proposal was included in a multiyear funding measure for the agency. Supporters of the act argued an independent ATC agency may be better capable of managing the nation's aviation system than the now embattled FAA.
According to Shuster in a Feb. 4 news conference, "The FAA has proven it cannot monitor the air traffic control system. Our aviation system is not efficient. Delays, congestions and inefficiencies and costs the American people about $30 billion a year. Delays in 13 of our 20 largest airports continue to increase, some flight departure markets take longer now than they did just a decade ago.
"We have 750 million people today traveling throughout the airspace in the United States and in less than 10 years will be up to a billion passengers flying. Under the status quo, the system, I believe, is going to get worse."
GA AIRR opposition
While proponents touted the AIRR act as a plan that would help U.S. aviation, there was a real possibility the plan could negatively affect personal recreational flying, or general aviation, at the same time. Those who opposed the act felt it would only serve to privatize the nation's airspace. Such privatization would detrimentally affect the GA industry, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen said.
Another of the plan's opponents, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO and Chairman Jack J. Pelton, noted that the plan contained "an ATC governance structure that heavily favors airlines and commercial interests, and creates real threats to the services that keep America's air traffic system the safest and most effective in the world. ATC privatization carries the real possibility of putting GA in the 'big squeeze' regarding fees, services, airport access and the individual freedom to fly for grassroots and recreational flying."
While acknowledging that there were elements of the act that would have been beneficial to the GA industry, Pelton also acknowledged that there were concerns. According to GeneralAviationNews.com, the concerns were many.
Both the National Air Transportation Association and the Alliance for Aviation Across America shared similar concerns.
In its own official statement, the Alliance for Aviation Across America explained that the association was "opposed to any proposal which would take away Congressional oversight over our air traffic control system. In a privatized system dominated by commercial interests, consumers and smaller communities would come last — these are citizens who have already faced record fees, cuts to air service by 20 percent, and are getting crammed into smaller and smaller seat spaces.
"In addition, sectors such as general aviation support jobs, business, agriculture, charitable activity, law enforcement and medical services will be negatively impacted by this proposal. Congressional oversight of the aviation system is necessary to ensure that our air transportation system remains a public benefit and serves communities of all sizes."
The battle continues
Possibly folding under opposition pressure — mostly from airlines and general aviation (GA) groups — the House GOP members decided Feb. 25 on a short-term plan to continue funding to the FAA, funding which was set to expire March 31.
GA supporters were quick to claim victory following the news that the AIRR plan had ultimately fallen through, giving GA advocates the opportunity to focus on issues the industry deems more important.
"Medical and certification reforms, long-term funding for projects like modernization, airports, and unleaded fuels — these are the issues that matter to the general aviation community," AOPA President Mark Baker said in a recent statement. "Lawmakers understand this, and AOPA will keep working with both houses of Congress to ensure that final legislation reflects those needs and protects the future of general aviation."
According to Shuster however, attempts at reorganizing the ATC system aren't over.
"This is an ongoing process, and we will continue working to educate members and address questions they have about the bill," he said in a statement. "The need for an extension was not a surprise, and details about the short-term measure are still being discussed.”
GA supporters and enthusiasts should understand that if they were eager to put a halt to the AIRR, then they are going to have to be just as eager to stand up to its possibly many other versions because the war against GA is just beginning.
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