Conservatives rally behind independent air traffic control plan

Conservatives rally behind independent air traffic control plan
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Conservative and libertarian groups in Washington are rallying behind a House Republican plan to separate the nation’s air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

A group of 13 right-leaning groups said in a letter to members of Congress that the proposal to create a new nongovernmental organization that would take over air traffic control from the FAA is "an excellent foundation upon which to build a new model for an operation historically mired in old-style thinking and fiscal ineptitude.

"As Congress prepares to craft a comprehensive FAA reauthorization package, lawmakers should explore every option to improve the nation’s aviation infrastructure without burdening taxpayers," the groups wrote.   

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"One such option is House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Shuster’s vision for air traffic control reform, which he has described as “a federally chartered, fully independent, not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernize the ATC system,” they continued.  

"To us it is an axiomatic economic principle that user-funded, user-accountable entities are far more capable of delivering innovation and timely improvements in a cost-effective manner than government agencies." 

The proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA is included in a funding measure for the agency that is intended to prevent an interruption in federal aviation funding next month. It calls for transferring responsibility for air traffic control from the FAA to a new independent agency in three years. 

The FAA bill is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation left on the congressional agenda this year. As such, it also represents an opportunity for lawmakers looking for a vehicle on which to attach pet issues.

Supporters of the bill have said separating air traffic control from the FAA would modernize the nation’s aviation system and bring it on par with countries such as Canada that have already set up independent flight navigation systems. 

“The United States has led the world in aviation since pioneering this modern mode of transportation. We have the safest system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system.”

The proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA is creating divisions in the airline industry.

The union that represents federal air traffic controllers on Wednesday endorsed splitting off U.S. flight navigation from the FAA, although it warned that “safety and efficiency must remain the top priorities.”

“After extremely careful review, consideration, and deliberation, we have reached a decision: NATCA supports this bill,” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said.

But other aviation groups in Washington said the plan to separate air traffic control from the FAA amounts to a privatization of the nation’s flight navigation system.

“NATA cannot support the legislation’s proposal to create a federally chartered, not-for-profit air traffic control corporation,” National Air Transportation Association President Thomas Hendricks said in a statement. 

“A user-fee funded ATC corporation, controlled in perpetuity by a board of industry insiders, will place general aviation in constant peril, starve rural America of access to cutting-edge technology, and saddle the traveling public with ever increasing fees,” he continued. 

The conservative and libertarian groups that endorsed the independent air traffic control plan said this week that most opponents of the proposal "are opposed to any meaningful conversation over shifting the direction of air traffic control policy.

"They claim that the plan is 'privatization,' when in fact the proposal calls for a nonprofit entity," the union wrote. "They assert that the general aviation community would be disadvantaged, even though the independent organization would include all stakeholders and customers of the system, from labor unions to airlines to piston-engine pilots." 

Most major airlines are supporting the independent air traffic control proposal, with the notable exception of Delta

Noncommercial flight operators have complained that the proposal to spin off air traffic control from the FAA would give too much power to commercial airlines, however. 

Lawmakers in the House are scheduled to hold an initial hearing on the proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA on Wednesday.

The letter in favor of the proposal is signed by the National Taxpayers Union; American Enterprise Institute; Center for Freedom and Prosperity; Coalition to Reduce Spending; Competitive Enterprise Institute; Council for Citizens Against Government Waste; Hudson Institute; Less Government; National Center for Policy Analysis,; Reason Foundation; Rio Grande Foundation; The R Street Institute and Taxpayers for Common Sense.