Just because the House of Representatives is on a five-week recess does not mean the threat of a privatized air traffic control system is any lower. “Pilots must remain diligent in contacting their members of Congress to oppose the proposed bill and in encouraging their friends and neighbors to do the same,” said AOPA President Mark Baker.
With members of Congress at home in their districts during the break, now is the time when pilots can have face-to-face meetings with their representatives to convince them to oppose H.R. 2997. The bill, dubbed the 21st Century AIRR Act, would take ATC out of the hands of the FAA and turn it over to a nonprofit corporation with a board dominated by the airlines and their allies. Even though the proposal does not impose user fees on general aviation, the result would be a “too big to fail” monopoly that would take on a significant amount of debt and create unintended consequences and risks for a system that works well today for all users. “We appreciate that this proposal does not include user fees on GA, right now, but this proposal won’t decrease delays or airfares. In fact, this is like giving the interstate highway system to six trucking companies and assuming they will look out for the interests of automobile drivers,” Baker said.
However, thanks in large part to the efforts of pilots, H.R. 2997 hasn’t, so far, garnered enough support to reach the floor. Shuster’s efforts will continue through the recess. He will likely double-down in September because FAA authorization, which is a part of the bill, expires Sept. 30. If no action on reauthorization occurs by then, the FAA will run out of spending authority. Meanwhile, the Senate legislation to address FAA reauthorization does not include ATC privatization and is supported by AOPA.
Many members of Congress have spoken out against ATC privatization and the detrimental effects bound to follow. In a speech delivered on the House floor July 27, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) encouraged his colleagues in Congress to vote no on H.R. 2997.
Rokita, a pilot himself, spoke passionately about the importance of GA and how it will be negatively impacted should H.R. 2997 pass. Rokita also clarified some of the misconceptions surrounding GA, saying that it’s not some special interest group. In fact, GA accounts for some $219 billion in economic impact. Rokita cited his home state of Indiana, where GA generates nearly $6 billion in economic activity.
Reps. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) and Steve Russell (R-Okla.), both pilots, also have joined the fight against ATC privatization and hope to persuade other GOP lawmakers to do the same. As a friend of Pilots for Patients, Abraham understands the importance of airports in rural America and the benefits of volunteer organizations. Under privatization, Abraham believes that GA and smaller airports would lose access to the airspace and be inadequately represented.
From Washington, D.C., to Wisconsin, ATC privatization continues to be a hot topic of conversation. At EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 24, a rally against privatization was held where EAA President Jack Pelton stated the beloved event would likely shut down if H.R. 2997 passed. Not surprisingly, the majority of attendees at AirVenture were rabidly opposed to privatization and at AOPA’s tent, more than 4,000 pilots signed the petition against ATC privatization.
Though Congress is in recess, the fight against privatization is more critical now than ever. “With support from the president, House leadership, every major commercial airline, ALPA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the battle is far from over. Our members need to remain engaged and tell their congressional representatives that some in Washington may want this but folks outside of Washington don’t. We support modernization but H.R. 2997 is not the right solution,” said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Coon.
AOPA is asking members, pilots, and supporters to continue to contact their representatives in the House by calling 855/383-7330 or visiting AOPA’s ATC Privatization page.