Senate panel to reject Trump’s air traffic control plan in aviation bill

Senate panel to reject Trump’s air traffic control plan in aviation bill
© Greg Nash

A Senate panel has declined to include President Trump’s controversial proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government in a must-pass aviation bill, according to the committee’s chairman.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneAviation panel recommends Trump roll back safety rules Overnight Regulation: House moves to block methane rule | Senators wrestle with allowing driverless trucks | EPA delays toxic waste rule Overnight Tech: Senate looks at self-driving trucks | Facebook to keep ads off fake news | House panel calls Equifax CEO to testify MORE (R-S.D.), who leads the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the Senate's long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not include the spinoff plan, citing the lack of support for the idea on his panel.

Instead, Thune said the House will have to take the lead on efforts to transfer the country’s air navigation system to a private corporation.

“No, we don’t have the votes to pass that in our committee at the moment,” Thune told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ll see what the House is able to do and we’ll proceed accordingly. But if that issue were to get addressed, it would probably have to be on the floor in conference.”

Thune added that final touches are being added to the bill, with a committee markup likely to happen “next week.”

The FAA’s current legal authority expires at the end of September, and lawmakers in both chambers have been crafting separate long-term proposals to reauthorize the agency.

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Earlier this year, Trump endorsed a plan that would put a nonprofit entity in charge of air traffic control operations as a way to speed up long-stalled modernization efforts. The FAA would maintain safety oversight, while the corporation would be in charge of operations and have the power to impose user fees.

But the idea received an icy reception from senators earlier this month, when GOP lawmakers raised concern over whether rural airports and general aviation users would be adequately protected and represented under the new model.

The spinoff proposal is generally more preferred by Republicans in the lower chamber, where the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is preparing to unveil a long-term FAA bill soon that will include spinoff language.

A similar proposal was included in the House’s long-term FAA reauthorization last year, but it stalled amid opposition from GOP tax-writers and appropriators, forcing lawmakers to instead enact a short-term patch.

Senators have warned that the same thing could happen again if they pursue the spinoff plan, especially with a packed calendar and few remaining legislative days before the FAA’s legal authority expires.

“With the administration's support of this concept, the chances of getting a long-term FAA reauthorization in my view have now been diminished,” Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIT modernization measure included in Senate-approved defense policy bill Campaign video touts apprenticeships making Trump commemorative coins Senate approves Trump's debt deal with Democrats MORE (R-Kan.) said earlier this month.