Heritage Action pans air traffic control overhaul

Heritage Action pans air traffic control overhaul
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The conservative Heritage Action group is criticizing a controversial Republican plan to separate the nation’s air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The group said Tuesday that it has concerns about the cost and size of the proposal, which is included in a funding measure for the FAA.  

"Understandably, many conservatives are eager to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system," the group said in a blog post on its website. 

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"But, concerns have arisen that this attempt would instead create an organization similar to other government-sponsored enterprises that keep taxpayers on the hook for serious missteps," the group continued. 

The measure containing the proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA, which was approved by the House Transportation Committee last week, calls for the creation of a new flight navigation organization that would be managed by a board of directors composed of aviation industry representatives. 

The proposed aviation bill would spend about $17 billion per year on the agency over the first three years while the independent air traffic control organization is being set up. Federal aviation spending would then drop to approximately $6 billion annually over the final three years to cover non-air traffic control functions at the FAA.

Heritage Action said Tuesday that it has concerned about the financing of the proposal independent air traffic control organization. 

"As written, the bill would transfer the responsibility for collecting fees and expending funds to the new corporation, removing certain spending from the discretionary appropriations process," the group wrote. 

"However, this transition contains downstream effects, particularly as it impacts recent budget agreements, that must be addressed," the group continued. "In light of the federal government’s out of control spending and the current fight on the GOP budget, conservatives must scrutinize every dollar that the government might spend, or save." 

Heritage Action also complained that the proposed FAA funding bill includes the potential for airline passengers to be taxed twice on flight purchases and also maintains subsidies for rural air service. 

"The House Ways and Means Committee still needs to report legislation to ensure that we don’t end up with, in effect, the double taxation of our federal aviation system," the group said. "If they don’t, the new ATC Corporation will begin levying fees on passengers who are still being forced to pay federal taxes to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

"The bill also authorizes over $2 billion to be spent on the Essential Air Service, a taxpayer subsidy for rural air passengers which Heritage has long argued should be discontinued," the group added. "Additionally, the bill increases funding for Airport Improvement Grants, authorizing spending to the tune of over $26 billion on these grants over six years." 

Supporters of the proposal to spin-off air traffic control from the FAA have argued that an independent organization could manage the nation's aviation system better than the federal agency, which has come under fire for delays in its effort to modernize the technology that is used in flight navigation. 

“The AIRR [Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization] Act provides the transformational reform necessary to bring our antiquated air traffic system into the modern era, and allow America to lead the world again in aviation,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation committee, said after a hearing on the measure last week.  

Democrats, meanwhile, have fiercely resisted the proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA, arguing that setting up a new organization would amount to a privatization of the nation's aviation system.

"Running a science experiment with the most complex airspace in the world comes with a lot of risk, including the uncertain futures of thousands of workers at FAA,"  said Rep. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenActing FAA chief defends agency's Boeing 737 Max safety certification Pelosi, Dems struggle to find unity in Mueller response Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements MORE (D-Wash.). 

Heritage Action said Tuesday that it "will be following the developments with the AIRR Act closely and strongly encourages Congress to eliminate the burdensome bureaucratic control of our nation’s aviation system by moving towards true privatization, reduced federal spending, and lower taxes."