House and Senate conferees Friday approved a compromise FAA reauthorization bill that will prohibit the privatization of air traffic control (ATC) for at least four years. AOPA pressed right up until the final vote to ensure that prohibition was included. The bill also includes AOPA-supported changes to the "pilot insecurity rule" and other important items for general aviation. The bill must now be voted on by the full House and Senate.
"The bill stops short of declaring ATC an 'inherently governmental' position, which is what we really wanted," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But it prohibits the FAA from transferring aircraft separation and control functions to any public or private entity other than the United States government for the short term."
"But as any pilot knows, a forecast of clear weather is not a guarantee. The storm clouds of ATC privatization and user fees will likely build again."
Democrats and labor leaders are upset with the anti-privatization language, because it does not protect unionized FAA flight service station and equipment maintenance personnel from outsourcing, and because of the sunset provision that makes the language expire in 2007. The Senate may take another stab at modifying the anti-privatization language before it adjourns this week.
"AOPA is also concerned about the sunset provision," said Boyer. "But the bottom line is we've now got four more years to try to correct the problem and make the prohibition against privatization permanent."
The FAA reauthorization bill also corrects the inherent unfairness of the "pilot insecurity" rule, under which the Transportation Security Administration can order the FAA to revoke a pilot's certificate for national security reasons and keep the evidence against the pilot secret. Under the original rule, pilots could only appeal the decision to the TSA, which was the agency that had ordered their certificate revoked in the first place.
Under the reauthorization bill language, pilots would have the right to appeal to a third independent party, which would have access to the classified information used against the pilot.
The bill also includes a $100 million relief package for GA businesses hurt in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. AOPA championed a similar measure right after the terrorist attacks, but it died when special interests kept adding measures that bloated the bill to nearly $5 billion.
"AOPA will still keep a close eye on the bill, because the compromise still has to clear both houses," said Boyer. "The House has adjourned for their August recess and won't vote until after Labor Day. But the Senate is in session for another week and could conceivably 'adjust' the compromise before they start their summer break."