GOP chairman wants a new group to run air traffic control

GOP chairman wants a new group to run air traffic control
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The chairman of the House Transportation Committee on Monday called for the nation's air traffic control system to be separated from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and given to a "new corporation."

Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterLobbying firm cuts ties to Trent Lott amid national anti-racism protests Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR MORE (R-Pa.) said in a speech to the AeroClub of Washington that he will push for the creation of a new nongovernmental agency that would take over air traffic control. 

"After examining various models, I believe we need to establish a federally chartered, fully independent not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernize our ATC [air traffic control] services," he said. 

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Shuster said the board of his suggested new corporation would be composed of stakeholders of the aviation industry, with checks put in place to safeguard against conflicts of interest. 

"Creation of this new corporation would naturally be carried out within the bounds of our Constitution," he said. "The corporation would be governed by a board of system users. The users and the public interest will be fairly represented, and steps will be taken to prevent any conflicts of interest and domination of the board by one group." 

The FAA's funding is currently set to expire in September. Shuster said he is planning to include his push for a separate air traffic control organization in an upcoming reauthorization measure for the agency. 

"This aviation bill will look forward to our future. It will provide transformational comprehensive reform of the FAA and our aviation system driven by several principles: providing a safe, efficient modern aviation, benefiting passengers with fewer delays and greater reliability, fostering innovation and keeping America competitive in this vital sector," he said.  

"To fulfill these principles, I believe it is essential to separate our air traffic control from our safety regulator," Shuster continued. 

The FAA has been planning for years to discard the World War II-era radar technology that has been used to manage airplane traffic for generations in favor of a new satellite-based system that is known as NextGen. But the conversion has hit turbulence amid missed deadlines and rampant budget-cutting in Washington in recent years.

Shuster told the aviation group Monday that his proposal to separate air traffic control from the nation's aviation oversight agency is "not a revolutionary concept." 

"In the '90s, President Clinton and in the 2000's President Bush attempted to do this," he said. "Over the last 20 years, 50 countries around have successfully separated out the ATC. In virtually every place this has been done, safety levels have been maintained or improved, ATC system has been modernized, service has been improved and costs have generally been reduced." 

Shuster said his new proposed air traffic control organization would be paid for by a "stable, self-sustaining and fair user fee funding structure," which he said would free it from "funding uncertainty, political meddling and bureaucratic red tape that plagued the FAA and ATC services for years." 

"This will insulate the ATC operator from events like sequestration, agency closures and government shutdowns," he said. "Taxpayers will benefit from the operating efficiencies created, and I believe annual savings will be int the billions of dollars. And we'll stop wasting billions more on failed modernization efforts that have over promised and are over budget." 

Unions that represent air traffic controllers have opposed previous efforts to privatize the nation's airplane navigation system, but Shuster said Monday that he was optimistic that he could put a package together in time beat the Sept. 30 deadline for extending the FAA's funding. 

"I hope to introduce a bill later this month and consider it in committee after that," he said. "In talking with House leadership, I believe we can have this bill on the floor sometime in July."  

The White House would not comment on the Shuster's proposal on Monday. 

Press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration is still reviewing it. But he added that one of the main criteria to consider is safety, and he praised current air traffic controllers for having an "outstanding safety record."

Jordan Fabrian contributed to this report.