Feds throw cold water on GOP air traffic control privatization plan

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Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFive takeaways from the new driverless car guidelines White House rolls out guidelines for self-driving cars Feds set to unveil self-driving car guidelines MORE threw cold water Wednesday on a Republican plan to privatize large portions of the nation's air traffic control system.  

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is expected to call for the creation of a new nongovernmental agency that would take over air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration in a forthcoming funding bill for the agency.

Foxx said Wednesday during a meeting with reporters at the Transportation Department's headquarters that he did not see the need to remove the federal government from the airplane navigation process.

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"I think when you look at the way the government is managing air traffic control, most stakeholders would say this is an area the government has done exceptionally well, and I believe that to be true as well," he said. "I don't think this is an issue where you entertain a change because things are terrible. They're not terrible. The FAA has done a good job managing the airspace." 

The push from Shuster to privatize air traffic control comes as the FAA is in the midst of a years-long effort to discard the World War II-era radar technology currently used to manage airplane traffic in favor of a new satellite-based system, known as NextGen.

The conversion has hit turbulence amid missed deadlines and rampant budget-cutting in Washington, and Shuster has argued that a private corporation could manage the transition more effectively.

"After examining various models, I believe we need to establish a federally chartered, fully independent not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernize our ATC [air traffic control] services," Shuster said during a speech in June at the Aero Club of Washington.

"This will insulate the ATC operator from events like sequestration, agency closures and government shutdowns," Shuster continued. "Taxpayers will benefit from the operating efficiencies created, and I believe annual savings will be int the billions of dollars. And we'll stop wasting billions more on failed modernization efforts that have over promised and are over budget."

Foxx said Wednesday that he has to wait to see what the specifics of Shuster's proposal are when unveils the FAA legislation.

"The question I think is, are there benefits to moving to a different structure that help us achieve better safety, better efficiency?" he said.

"That's an unknown right now based on the fact that we haven't seen a concrete proposal yet," Foxx continued. "But we'll take a very fair look at this and evaluate it on its own merits. I think the starting point is can we get a better system, because I don't think the system we have is bad right now."

Shuster was expected to unveil the air traffic control privatization measure last week, but the bill's release was delayed and no announcement of a new date to reveal the legislation has been made.