When we last checked in on Congressman Bill Shuster’s plan to “privatize” air traffic control functions in the country things weren’t looking very promising for him. There’s still very little support for it in the Senate and nagging questions persist over who would wind up running these operations and how the members of a proposed committee to oversee ATC functions would be selected. Even though the forces pushing for the plan have the President on their side now, the best shot they seemed to have at an early win was thought to be in the House of Representatives. But as The Hill reports this week, it’s not even a sure bet that the scheme will even make it out of committee now that a couple of Republicans are not only opposed to it, but trying to whip up “no” votes.
Two House Republicans are actively working to torpedo President Trump’s effort to separate air traffic control from the federal government, which would deliver a major blow to one of the administration’s chief infrastructure priorities.
Reps. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) and Ralph Abraham (R-La.), who say they agree with Trump about the need to modernize the country’s air navigation system, told The Hill on Tuesday that they have been explaining their concerns over the spinoff plan to colleagues, pointing out contentious bill language and trying move skeptical GOP lawmakers into the “no” column.
House leadership began whipping members last Thursday on a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which includes the privatization plan endorsed by Trump. A similar effort stalled last year amid opposition from both parties and was never brought to the House floor.
Similarly, GOP leaders are unlikely to bring it up this year unless they are confident it has enough votes to pass. A vote has not yet been scheduled, though amendments were due Monday.
Russell and Abraham are approaching this situation from the correct angle as far as I’m concerned. There’s no problem whatsoever with studying ways to legitimately privatize air traffic control. If this job is done correctly and a suitable entity is identified to manage the system in a way that both sustains operational and security concerns while saving the taxpayers money, that’s a beautiful thing. The pair are also echoing concerns over the impact this will have on the general aviation community and how the new, proposed system would interface with Defense, but those are things which should be able to be worked out as well.
Sadly, the current scheme is not really accomplishing any of that. As we previously discussed, this looks like nothing more than cronyism which could move us backward rather than forward. Far too much control would be handed over to the airline industry’s unions and their chief lobbying group, Airlines for America (AFA). And at this point we even have officials inside of the FAA who are former lobbyists with AFA and the major airlines lobbying Congress from the inside to push this through.
Did we learn nothing from Obamacare and several other gargantuan programs which were shoved through without due consideration? The air traffic control system is certainly in need of upgrades, both in technology and how the system is structured. But it’s not in the midst of a crisis where it’s about to implode, either. There’s no reason to squelch all debate and jam this plan through when we could obviously do better. Let’s get some other proposals on the table and take some bids from interested parties who are actually “private” in nature while having expertise in the field and let them all have a fair hearing. The current plan has a feel of “look for the union label” all over it and our legislators should be rightly wary of it.