Aviation groups want to ground private air traffic control plan

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Aviation groups who represent non-commercial flight operators are pleading for Congress to ground a proposal to privatize large portions of the nation's air traffic control system in a funding measure for the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Lawmakers are already expected to debate a proposal from House Republicans to create a new nongovernmental agency that would take over air traffic control from the FAA as Congress tries to beat a March 31 deadline for renewing the agency's funding.

A group of 15 non-commercial aviation organizations in Washington said in letter to members of the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday that lawmakers should not rush to embrace the air traffic control privatization proposals, despite claims from backers about the success of similar systems in Canada and several European nations. 

"The general aviation community has very real and long-standing concerns about foreign air traffic control models, which go well beyond the user fee issue," the groups wrote. "These concerns are based on our operating experiences in foreign systems, as well as thoughtful analysis about what those systems might look like in the United States." 

The FAA's funding bill is one of the few pieces of must-pass legislation that is left on Congress' agenda after a busy 2015 that saw lawmakers pass a large spending bill for most government agencies and a multi-year highway funding package. 

GOP leaders in the House have said the proposed nongovernmental entity could better manage the commercial and private jet flights in the nation's airspace. 

"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," House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa. said during a speech last June at the Aero Club of Washington. 

The push to privatize most facets of 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 supporters of the privatization proposal have said the FAA is ill-equipped to complete the project.

The aviation groups that wrote to lawmakers on Tuesday said critics are underselling the current state of the nation's aviation system. 

"This is an industry that generates more than one million jobs, and more than $200 billion for the nation’s economy," the group's wrote. "It is worth noting that the majority of all general aviation in the world today takes place in the U.S. Simply put, general aviation in America is the envy of the world." 

The groups said lawmakers should proceed with caution with the FAA privatization proposals. 

"Because we have so much at stake in the FAA reauthorization process, and given the magnitude of the change that we anticipate being proposed, we call on you as committee leaders to provide ample opportunity for all stakeholders and citizens to carefully review, analyze and debate any proposed legislation changing the governance and funding for air traffic control," they wrote.

The letter was signed by the Air Care Alliance; Aircraft Electronics Association; Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; Commemorative Air Force,; Experimental Aircraft Association; General Aviation Manufacturers Association; Helicopter Association International; International Council of Air Shows; National Agricultural Aviation Association; National Association of State Aviation Officials; National Air Transportation Association; National Business Aviation Association; Recreational Aviation Foundation; Seaplane Pilots Association and Veterans Airlift Command.