Ding, dong, the ATC "privatization" push is dead (for now)

We’ve spent more than our fair share of time here discussing the proposal to “privatize” air traffic control (ATC) functions in the United States. The plan, which would remove ATC oversight from the FAA and turn it over to some new entity comprised mainly of commercial airline lobbyists and their unions, was pushed largely by Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster and endorsed by President Trump. Now Shuster is retiring and the President appears to have moved on to other matters and the plan is officially being abandoned. (The Hill)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is dropping his effort to separate air traffic control from the federal government.

“Despite an unprecedented level of support for this legislation – from bipartisan lawmakers, industry, and conservative groups and labor groups alike – some of my own colleagues refused to support shrinking the federal government by 35,000 employees, cutting taxes, and stopping wasteful spending,” Shuster wrote in a statement.

The proposed legislation, which was unveiled by Shuster back in June and which the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved in a 32-25 vote last year, would have shifted control of the country’s air navigation system to a private nonprofit organization over three years. The system would have been controlled by a board of directors that would have the power to impose user fees…

“Although our air traffic control reform provisions did not reach the obvious level of support needed to pass Congress, I intend to work with Senator [John] Thune [R-S.D.] and move forward with a reauthorization bill to provide long-term stability for the FAA,” Shuster said.

Well, I don’t know about any “unprecedented level of support” for this plan. Polling on the issue was sparse at best and given all of the other hot topics being debated, a significant part of the country had never even heard of it. The biggest “support” I saw came primarily from Airlines for America, the lobbying group supporting the commercial airlines, plus their associated unions. But at least the subject is going away for a while.

The day may come when we can attempt something like this. I’m still a big fan of privatization wherever it’s practical and profitable to do so. And while it’s a highly technical and complex field, the private sector probably could do a better job of it than any group of Washington bureaucrats. But if we’re going to do it, it should be a truly independent organization built by specialists in the field, not corporate lobbyists and labor unions. That’s just a recipe for disaster.

For now, however, we’re going to need to just muddle on as we have been and wait for a more viable proposal to come along. In the meantime, if you really want to work on fixing something to do with air travel, why don’t you get to work investigating why the coach fare airline seats are now approximately the size of a Saltine cracker?