The top advocate in Congress for shifting air-traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a non-profit corporation quit the effort Tuesday.
The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said despite bipartisan support among lawmakers, industry and labor groups, there isn’t enough support to approve the proposal this year.
President Trump endorsed privatization in both the budgets he submitted to Congress. Airlines called it a top priority to stabilize funding for the system and hasten modernizing.
Despite the support, Shuster said “some of my own colleagues refused to support shrinking the federal government by 35,000 employees, cutting taxes and stopping wasteful spending.” The Senate version of FAA legislation didn't include privatization.
Rather than pursue the effort further after two years, Shuster said he would work with his counterpart, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to approve FAA legislation without air-traffic control privatization.
“Although our air traffic control reform provisions did not reach the obvious level of support needed to pass Congress, I intend to work with Sen. Thune and move forward with a reauthorization bill to provide long-term stability for the FAA,” Shuster said in a statement.
Shuster isn't seeking re-election this year, so the effort will lose its most prominent advocate.
A decision had to be made on the contentious issue because the latest short-term extension of FAA legislation expires March 31.
Airlines pushed hard for the proposal because more precise
guidance of flights is expected to allow more planes in the sky, while routes are shorter and more efficient, to save fuel and reduce emissions.
Even the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing controllers, supported the move generally as a way to provide more stable funding than annual congressional appropriations. Two brief government shutdowns since the start of the year, which disrupt modernization planning even as controllers remain on the job, reinforce their argument.
But general-aviation advocates fear that the corporation will favor airlines at busy airports and will charge higher fees than the government. Groups including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the National Air Transportation Association and the National
Business Aviation Association issued a joint statement opposing the effort.
Lawmakers who decide how much money to spend each year say that people who complain about aviation, including the fees the corporation will charge, won’t have anyone to hear their complaints if Congress no longer oversees the system.
Critics have also argued that the government shouldn’t give away FAA equipment and property worth billions of dollars without charging the corporation for it.
The top Democrat on Shuster’s committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, said the proposal would hand over billions of dollars of taxpayer-owned equipment and property to a private corporation run by special interests.