Is Trump open to Bill Shuster's plan to privatize air traffic control?

Like a zombie rising from the scene of a massacre, last year’s ill fated proposal to quasi-privatize the air traffic control system and turn it largely over to the unions may be coming back around again. The plan has been pushed by Congressman Bill Shuster (R -PA 9) and while it fell apart last year, he seems to be of the opinion that President Trump may be looking upon the idea favorably. Were that the case, he might find more support in Congress for it and we’ll be back to wrestling with the complicated but highly dubious scheme all over again. This cropped up last month in the Washington Examiner, though I haven’t seen anything from the White House since the inauguration.

Rep. Bill Shuster finally might have a receptive ear in the White House for his plan to privatize air traffic control systems at U.S. airports, a plan long opposed by Democrats…

Shuster told reporters last month that Trump’s transition team is open to his ideas.

“I’ve had some conversations with Trump transition folks and they seemed very interested in putting this in their larger infrastructure bill,” Shuster told reporters.

The proposal would face staunch opposition from Democrats, who killed the Shuster’s proposal in the July bill extending FAA authorization.

If you missed the story originally, I wrote about this plan almost exactly one year ago. Even in the early stages of discussion it sounded to me as if this was a slippery slope to a huge union giveaway with little to no benefit to the taxpayers.

As proposals go, this one is rather hard to evaluate. One of the first places you’d think to look is the reaction of the unions: if they hate it then it’s probably a good idea. But in this case it’s a mixed bag. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is supporting the measure because they claim that it would stabilize the funding stream for the FAA rather than leaving it up to the whims of a gridlocked Congress. That might be the biggest warning sign here because current FAA functions would be paid for through fees charged to the airlines for the service, not tax dollars. That means, of course, that the costs would be passed directly down to the public in the form of higher air fares. But on the other side of the coin, the American Federation of Government Employees and some other public workers unions are opposing it as a “privatization” effort.

Moving this important function to the private sector might work, but that’s not what’s being proposed. They’re talking about a massive new “non-profit” organization which would run it. That’s generally a red flag for me because non-profits have very little incentive to be either efficient or lashed to a dedication to excellence. But who knows? Once they’re off the taxpayer payroll perhaps this could work.

I remained dubious about this idea and then pretty much forgot about it after it looked like Congress wasn’t on board and it was being shelved. I hope the President takes a long, hard look at this plan and doesn’t just rush into embracing it. Shrinking the size of government is always the goal and if this were true privatization it would certainly merit a look, but the union aspect of how it would be implemented remains highly disturbing.

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