GOP chairman to unveil FAA bill

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The chairman of the House Transportation Committee is expected to unveil his proposal for a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration's funding on Wednesday. 

The measure is widely expected to include a controversial proposal to separate the nation's air traffic control system from the FAA that has drawn opposition from budget writers and several aviation groups in Washington. 

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster's (R-Pa.) office said Tuesday that he will unveil "legislation to reauthorize and reform federal aviation programs and the Federal Aviation Administration" on Wednesday. 

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The announcement comes amid growing opposition from a bipartisan group of budget writers in the House and Senate and aviation groups who have argued that the proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA would amount to a privatization of the nation's fight management system. 

"As the House of Representatives considers reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we write to inform you we will not support legislation that would create a separate air traffic organization outside the FAA and removed from the annual appropriations process," Reps. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and David Price (D-N.C.) said in a letter that was circulated on Tuesday by aviation groups that are opposed to the independent air traffic control plan.

"The annual oversight and funding role of Congress is critical to providing individual citizens and communities a voice, through their elected representatives, in the operation of our nation's air traffic system," they continued. 

The top ranking lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee sent a similar letter to leaders of the upper chamber last week. 

"These proposals have two fundamental problems: they break apart the FAA, and they diminish the ability of Congress to oversee the aviation system," Sens. Thad CochranThad CochranSenate panel passes 4.5B defense bill Senate votes to block USDA catfish inspections GOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' MORE (R-Miss.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate backs equal pay for female soccer players Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill Dems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz MORE (D-Md.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP lawmaker: 'Republicans were wrong’ to block Garland Senate passes broad spending bill with .1B in Zika funds Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (R-Maine) and Jack ReedJack ReedSenators push to authorize 4,000 more visas for Afghans Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges Reid throws wrench into Clinton vice presidential picks MORE (D-R.I.) wrote in a letter to the leaders of the Senate committee that handles transportation issues.

Republicans on the House Transportation Committee have argued that creating a new nongovernmental organization that would take over air traffic control from the FAA would modernize the nation's aviation system. 

Critics, however, have said that improvements should be made through the existing air traffic control system that runs through the FAA. 

"As Shuster plans to introduce the reauthorization this week, this letter highlights a simple fact: the proposal to privatize the air traffic control system puts Americans at risk," Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization spokesperson Julia Alschuler said in a statement. 

The group said it was time to "restore long term stable funding to the FAA and continue the work already taking place to modernize our air traffic system."

The debate about separating air traffic control from the FAA comes as lawmakers are debating the air traffic control privatization proposal as Congress tries to beat a March 31 deadline for renewing the agency's funding.

Most of the nation's major airlines are supporting the plan to create a new air traffic control organization that would be separate the FAA.

The group that lobbies in Washington for most major carriers has rejected the idea that separating air traffic control from the FAA would amount to a privatization of the nation's flight navigation system. 

"Proponents of reform advocate for a not-for-profit organization that will be overseen by the FAA and governed by a board inclusive of all stakeholders, including employee unions, general aviation and private fliers, and passengers," Airlines for America said in a recent statement. 

"That’s the way air traffic services are run in most of the rest of the world," the group added in a recent statement. "We want to see more air traffic controllers hired. We want to make the system even more safe. And most importantly, we want to make flying better for the traveling public. Members of Congress should want the same thing.” 

Critics say supporters of the plan to create a new air traffic control organization are misguided, however. 

"We do not believe that creating a separate air traffic entity, removed from congressional oversight, will advance efforts to modernize air traffic control," the lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee wrote on Tuesday. 

"The Committee on Appropriations has a proven record of providing robust funding to advance air traffic technologies in the national interest," they continued. "While the FAA can and should improve and accelerate the development of modernized air traffic systems, we do not believe the solution is less oversight and less accountability."