A U.S. bill to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system, passed Feb. 11 by a House of Representatives committee, has received alternating support and criticism from aviation associations as it makes its way through the legislative process.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced the bill, H.R. 4441, on Feb. 3. Called the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016, the bill purpose is to reauthorize funding of the FAA. But the bill most notably calls for the creation of a new ATC entity governed as a nonprofit corporation rather than through congressional oversight.
Critics have warned that the proposed governing board, staffed primarily by airline executives, would have negative ramification to both the flying public and the aviation community.
HAI President Matt Zuccaro urged the rotorcraft industry in a Feb. 9 letter not to “give the skies to the airlines.”
He warned HAI members that the bill could “significantly impact helicopter operations in our national airspace” and urged them to tell congressional representatives that they oppose the move.
Zuccaro added that lack of helicopter representation on the board meant helicopters might not be assured equal access to airspace.
The National Business Aviation Assn. and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. voiced their own criticisms of the bill, citing opposition to private control of ATC and user fees, respectively.
However, surprising support for the bill came Feb. 10 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn., the union that represents ATC personnel. Citing furloughs, hiring freezes and other problems created by federal budget disputes in recent years, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said, “We no longer have a stable or predictable funding stream and this uncertainty has caused many serious problems for the system.”
He added that other non-for-profit ATC organizations worldwide, such as NavCanada, have proven that the proposed system works.