We’ve been covering the air traffic controller privatization plan being pushed by Pennsylvania GOP Congressman Bill Shuster (and now the Trump administration as well) for some time now. It goes by the name of H.R. 2997, or the “21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act” or the “21st Century AIRR Act”. None of it looks good. Most recently we learned that the current version of the scheme would hand primary oversight of operations to a “private board,” the members of which would be selected by Airlines for America (AFA), an industry lobbying group representing the airlines and their unions. Another shot was allegedly fired this week by one of the members of the FAA, issuing a strongly worded and enthusiastic memo urging adoption of the plan. (Multiple sources confirm the origin of the document, but it is not available on the FAA website yet and a request for comment from the office of the author had not yet been returned at the time of publication.)
The memo comes from Chris Brown, Assistant Administrator for Government and Industry Affairs at the FAA. You can read the entire thing by clicking on the image below, followed by a short excerpt.
It’s time to for the U.S. to join most of the industrialized world and separate its ATC system from the agency that also provides safety oversight. It’s a successful approach that has been adopted by over 50 countries and has provided benefits to the traveling public and general aviation alike. MIT Professor William Swelbar wrote in the Kansas City Star recently about the important benefits rural America will see from removing ATC operations from the government…
With major benefits and protections included in the AIRR Act, the general aviation community is best-served by an air traffic control system operated by a separate entity governed by system users rather than bureaucrats in Washington. Read the full facts and commentary attached and visit www.smarterskies.gov.
Obviously it’s completely proper for a member of the FAA to release such a policy memo, but it’s worth looking at the players involved. First of all, that “separate entity governed by system users” which Brown refers to in his memo is the board I referenced above. (The one where the members will be chosen by Airlines for America.)
Now let’s take a quick glance at Chris Brown’s resume, as listed on his Linkedin profile. He’s been employed with either the FAA or the House Transportation Committee since December of 2014. But prior to that his job title from March of 2011 through December 2014 was Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Policy working for… can you guess? If you said Airlines for America you win a cookie. And for the two years prior to that stint he was Senior Advisor for Government Affairs working for… United Airlines.
So we have a former lobbyist for not only one of the country’s biggest airlines but the biggest lobbying group for the industry and their unions pushing this ATC “privatization” scheme from inside the FAA. Add to that the previously disclosed fact that the long time girlfriend of the bill’s sponsor, Bill Shuster, is Shelley Rubino, who also happens to be a lobbyist for (yep) Airlines for America and you’ve got a situation which, well… come on, man.
And this is all happening right out in the open. Are we really going to go all in on this? As I’ve said repeatedly in the past, I’m all in favor of privatizing government activities where possible. It’s a good way to shrink the size of the federal behemoth and use private sector competition to reduce costs. But let’s give the job to some entity which is actually private and not completely lodged in the swamp of the current system. We could probably get Lockheed or Boeing to spin off a company comprised of aviation experts who could put in a bid for a job managing air traffic control and get a seriously competitive proposal that could save the taxpayers some money. This 21st Century AIRR Act looks nothing like a path toward those goals.