The U.S. House of Representatives this week approved a compromise FAA reauthorization bill that leaves the future of air traffic control privatization vulnerable to the vagaries of future administrations or FAA administrators.
"AOPA remains very concerned by the lack of protection for ATC in the compromise bill," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "We don't want ATC to be turned over to a private company as Canada and the United Kingdom have done. It just opens the door to a user-fee-based system."
The original bill passed by the House ordered that ATC be declared an "inherently governmental function" that must be performed by the government. Last year, the White House Office of Management and Budget declared ATC a "commercial" function, making it eligible for privatization.
"Administrator Blakey told an audience at AOPA Expo that the FAA does not support a fee-based system, and we take her at her word," said Cebula. "But as long as the 'commercial' language remains, future administrators or administrations have all the authority they need to turn the keys over to a NavCanada or NATS-type company."
The bill does contain a measure originally proposed by AOPA to make sure no other local official could shut down an airport without any advance notice. Known as the Meigs Legacy provision, it imposes stiff fines for any airport sponsor who closes an airport without giving proper notification to the FAA as required by regulation.
It also has a number of other provisions AOPA wholeheartedly supports: It gives pilots the right to a third-party appeal if their certificates are pulled for security reasons; it guarantees funds from the aviation trust fund will continue to be fully utilized for airport improvement and ATC modernization projects; and it authorizes $100 million to reimburse general aviation businesses hurt by the airspace system shutdown in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.