The FAA restructuring bill goes back on the shelf

I wanted to circle back to a bit of news which dropped a couple of days ago but was lost in the election shuffle for a while. We’ve been covering the progress (or lack thereof) of the new FAA restructuring bill here since it was submitted for consideration. The last we heard was that the details weren’t going over well with the public or most of the House majority and the legislation was on life support. This toxic plan would decrease oversight of air traffic control in the United States while diminishing control of the FAA budget and turn the process largely over to union control. Unfortunately for the airline industry and the big labor advocates who were pushing the plan, it seems to now have died in committee. (Politico)

The House Republican leadership is shelving plans to pass an overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration, a major blow to House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, according to multiple senior aides

Instead, the House will revert to a short-term extension of the FAA’s authority while “the Transportation Committee will continue their work on this transformative legislation,” a leadership aide said Thursday. The FAA must be renewed by the end of March.

The larger FAA measure was a top priority for Shuster. The bill would transfer the nation’s air-traffic control apparatus to a nonprofit company. He worked for years on the plan, twisting arms on his committee to get it through. For example, he exempted much of Alaska’s air traffic assets from the bill at the request of Rep. Don Young after he threatened to vote against the legislation.

The more we learned about this deal the worse it smelled. The fact that there were already bargains being cut in the cloak rooms to try to force it out for a floor vote didn’t speak well of it at all. Keep in mind that Don Young represents Alaska and a vast amount of the nation’s military and international civilian air traffic goes through his state. If you have to let Alaska remain exempt from the changes just to get him to go along with it, how good of a deal can it be for the rest of us?

Questions have also been raised about precisely how close the major airline industry trade group, Airlines for America, is to Bill Shuster. He’s the head of the Transportation Committee and the chief driver behind this effort. That made it all the more odd that people spotted him poolside with Nick Calio, the head of A4A, while these negotiations were playing out and after Schuster’s committee initially approved the bill.

Two days later, Shuster’s committee approved the measure. And the week after that, he and Calio escaped to Miami Beach, Florida, with Shelley Rubino, an Airlines for America vice president who is Shuster’s girlfriend.

The three lounged by the pool and dined together during festivities tied to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s (R-Fla.) annual weekend fundraising trip. Attendees said it they looked as if they were traveling in a pack.

It’s the most recent example of Shuster’s cozy relationship with the powerful airline association. His panel has jurisdiction over the $160 billion U.S. airline industry.

To be clear, this isn’t any sort of direct evidence of wrongdoing on Schuster’s part, but I mean… come on, guys. Even if everything is on the up and up, the optics of this are simply horrible. The airline industry is flushing tons of money into this lobbying effort and they stand to vastly increase their power (and likely their profits as well) in the air traffic control arena if this plan goes through. And the head of the committee responsible for oversight is spending time in Miami sipping drinks with the head of their trade association right after the vote?

This plan needs to go away. If nothing else, the members supporting it could at least think of the down ticket effect stories like this have on the election this year. I’m glad the rest of the majority seems to recognize what a debacle this could turn out to be. Let’s just get a funding bill for the FAA through for now and leave this grand restructuring scheme in the dust bin.