This air traffic control reform deal is looking worse and worse

“Infrastructure week” turned out to kind of a dud, what with all of the Russia, Russia, Russia fogging the battlefield, but one portion of it is still clearly on the agenda of the President and at least some members of Congress. It’s the “privatization” plan for portions of the FAA dealing with the nation’s air traffic controllers. As we’ve discussed here previously, the latest version of this scheme which anyone has seen would substantially hand over control of these functions to a new, private board, but it would be heavily influenced by industry groups and the industry’s unions.

Well, as the Daily Caller reports, the details look even worse than that. There is only one entity named who can assign members to this new board and it’s the same industry support group where the girlfriend of the congressman who came up with this plan works.

Shuster’s plan gave partial control of the proposed air traffic non-profit’s board to a lobbying group, Airlines for America (AFA), that employs his girlfriend, Shelley Rubino. Trump’s outline to Congress used language that makes AFA the only trade group eligible to pick board seats for the non-profit, according to an airline industry source.

“Trump’s plan is very similar to Shuster’s in terms of how board seats are allocated,” an industry source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Based on how things are written, AFA is the only trade group that can get those seats. Her trade group will get those seats, which is huge.”

AFA is a powerful industry lobbying group with members that include United Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, U.S. Airways, Federal Express Corporation, United Parcel Service Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. The only U.S. airline that is not part of AFA is Delta.

Considering who winds up with all the power in this “privatization” plan, the scheme is bad enough to begin with. But when you add in the fact that all the seats may be hand picked by Airlines for America (AFA) and that just happens to be where the bill’s chief proponent’s girlfriend works and we’ve really begun to skate off toward the flat end on the bell curve of credibility. Yes, yes… I know that Bill Shuster has been asked about it and informed everyone that his girlfriend doesn’t lobby his office, but… come on, man.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Shelley Rubino has nothing to do with this. We’re talking about a sitting member of Congress who is the head of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Wouldn’t you want to at least avoid the perception of nepotism and the sheer, brutal ugliness of the optics of all of this and recuse yourself from any activity involving AFA? It’s not as if this hasn’t been an issue before.

In 2015 Tom Graves (R – Ga) was trying to get the Travel Transparency Act passed but it was going nowhere. It was a bill which would allow the airlines to advertise prices without all the fees and other price changes included and the AFA wanted it passed badly. Graves allowed Shuster to take over the effort and the bill suddenly accelerated through the process quickly. Why did that happen? Graves said he had no idea. (Politico)

A year later, Graves says he has no idea why his bill was ignored before Shuster took it over. “I don’t know the answer to that. I really don’t.”

“I felt like as chairman, you know, if he’d like to have his name on the front of it,” that would be fine, Graves said in an interview. “I think I was second co-sponsor.” Graves added, “I was the only one who had an interest at that time and then, I guess, some others gathered some interest.”

Even if there’s nothing wrong going on here the entire thing reeks and projects exactly the sort of image we’re supposed to be trying to avoid. If we want to privatize the air traffic controllers, fine. But let’s find a plan that doesn’t give everything away to the one special interest group and their unions. Make it truly private with full congressional oversight, show us the savings we can realistically expect, and then put it up for a vote. This plan should be rejected.