AIRR Act anything but conservative

Private monopolies run by special interests should not get to raise taxes and set regulatory policy for the United States. That is unfortunately what Congress is about to do to the aviation industry.

While conservatives often want to (and should) take a sledgehammer to much of the federal government, this approach has proven disastrous on occasion and must not be taken lightly. As we have seen both in healthcare and energy, passing reckless, ill-conceived massive bills usually create more problems than we solve. Instead, Congress should be focused on smart solutions to specific problems.

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Unfortunately Congress is considering taking a sledgehammer to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The newly unveiled FAA reauthorization bill, H.R. 4441, would separate air traffic control from the FAA and place it under the control of a new air traffic control regulatory structure that heavily favors airlines and union interests. The new regulatory entity would be run by a board of 11 aviation and union stakeholders that would have the power to issue rules and regulations and levy taxes and fees on aviators and the traveling public. This proposal would not only remove congressional oversight and diminish public input; it also has the potential to cause serious problems for American aviation and is a far cry from a conservative solution to reforming our air traffic control system.

As conservatives, we support free market principles and believe the private sector provides solutions that the government cannot. But this proposal as written is not about the free market, it is about picking winners and losers in America’s airspace and increasing fees and taxes to finance a new regulatory entity, all while taking away Congress’s constitutional power of the purse. This plan is a solution in search of a problem that would hand control of America’s skies over to a consolidated group of unions and commercial airlines.

Creating a new air traffic control regulator outside of the FAA would be a risky and expensive undertaking, the consequences and costs of which would be borne by American taxpayers and the traveling public. Under H.R. 4441, there would be no checks-and-balances system in place to ensure that the air traffic control corporation operates fairly and safely and that its funds are spent wisely for the benefit of everyone in our public airspace system. In fact, this regulatory entity would exist in perpetuity, with no need for reauthorization. Limiting authorization forces policies to be reexamined. H.R. 4441 does away with this.

Furthermore, the act of separating air traffic control from the FAA would create jurisdictional and regulatory ambiguities and, in this case, present blatant conflicts of interest. Decisions regarding fees, services and airport access would be dictated by commercial interests, not by the American people acting through their representatives in Congress. A recent Government Accountability Office study confirms that this proposal would be a high-risk gamble that could jeopardize system safety, create uninsurable liabilities, restrict access and negatively affect rural and small communities.

The U.S. has by far the largest, most complex air transportation system in the world. Our flights account for over a quarter of total global air traffic, operating within a network that boasts 5,000 publicly accessible airports and over 14,000 air traffic controllers who handle an average of 70,000 flights per day. Despite its massive size and complexity, our air transportation system is also the gold standard of safety. There are many ways we can improve air traffic control from a technological and efficiency standpoint, but that doesn’t mean we need to reinvent the wheel and cut the American people out of the process.

H.R. 4441 is not a private-sector solution, it is a government-endorsed monopoly designed to benefit special interests at the expense of the American people. Our core conservative principles of low taxation, limited government and fundamental fairness to all dictate that we oppose this effort in its current state. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, common sense dictates that just because something isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean you have to throw it out and start over — in fact we risk making things worse. If H.R. 4441 moves ahead as proposed, we could harm our aviation system while missing an opportunity to make needed, beneficial, conservative reforms to the FAA.

Pompeo has represented Kansas’s 4th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Energy and Commerce and the Intelligence committees.

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