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 ThuneSenate panel approves GOP tax plan Republicans see rising Dem odds in Alabama Overnight Health Care: Nearly 1.5M sign up for ObamaCare so far | Schumer says Dems won't back ObamaCare deal if it's tied to tax bill | House passes fix to measure letting Pentagon approve medical treatments 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) MoranOvernight Cybersecurity: Kushner was contacted about WikiLeaks before election | Tech experts blast Trump's 'extreme vetting' plan | Senate passes defense bill with measure to modernize feds' IT Ensuring that defense agencies will have access to a community of entrepreneurs and innovators Provision to modernize federal IT in compromise defense bill MORE (R-Kan.) said earlier this month.