Air traffic controllers union still pushing Shuster's horrible privatization plan

Unable to come to any sort of long term agreement, Congress pushed through a short term funding arrangement for the FAA back in April. That stopgap measure is set to expire next month and we’re going to be right back where we started.

Unfortunately, this once again raises the specter of the FAA privatization plan which was being pushed by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) over the winter. I wrote at length about this scheme back in February and nothing much has changed since then. While the idea of shifting government jobs into the private sector is generally a good one which most conservatives can embrace, this package is a massive giveaway to the air traffic controllers union and opens the door to significant cost increases while moving largely outside of congressional oversight. The chief goal of saving money and getting the politics out of the business would be largely thwarted and the plan would do little other than further empowering the unions while likely driving up prices.

Still, with the deadline for another funding deal approaching, the debate is heating back up. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is back out on the trail, pounding the drum in favor of Shuster’s plan, with their president, Paul Rinaldi, sounding alarms over a lack of controllers to keep the children safe.

“If we do not act decisively and soon, I fear that our nation’s air traffic control system will soon face the same challenges and consequences as D.C.’s Metro system, which has been plagued by deferred maintenance and chronic underfunding,” Rinaldi said in his testimony for the Subcommittee’s hearing, entitled, A Review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Controller Hiring, Staffing, and Training Plans. “Without a stable and predictable funding stream for the National Airspace System (NAS), controller staffing is just the first of many NAS crises that Congress will need to resolve in the near future.”

NATCA believes the FAA must take a holistic, collaborative approach to resolving these staffing issues. Rinaldi said NATCA is committed to working towards permanent, sustainable solutions. He cited budgetary missteps, including stop-and-go funding for the FAA and sequestration in 2013, and the FAA’s bureaucratic red tape as contributing factors in the shortage of air traffic controllers.

When he talks about a “stable and predictable funding stream” here, Rinaldi is obviously talking about Shuster’s privatization plan or something very close to it. But whenever you see the unions jumping onboard with something like this you can rest assured that they’re got a vested interest in the outcome, and that translates into more control for them.

James Sherk from Heritage (who sees more positive points in privatization than I do) was already warning us about this last month. (Daily Signal)

But the legislation includes troubling labor provisions. Its supporters seem intent on buying government union support by giving them even more leverage over the public than they now possess.

This sets a terrible precedent for future privatization efforts. Congress should modernize America’s air traffic control system without enriching unions.

Even if we weren’t talking about a massive giveaway to the unions, the way this process is being turned into a political football holds other dangers. The longer it’s held up in congressional negotiations, the more opportunities the Democrats have to festoon it with tax extenders and other provisions which simply grow the government and drain more money out of the system. And no matter who the initial cost is dropped on, you understand who winds up paying for it eventually. That would be you, the air traveling public, in the form of even higher fares and fees.

What we need is a direct solution to funding the FAA without all of these bells and whistles which leaves them accountable for the money they receive while ensuring optimal service for the flying public. If we can’t even manage that much then Congress isn’t doing their job.


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David Strom 6:31 PM on October 05, 2022