In a surprise move, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), retiring chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced a “manager’s amendment” to H.R. 4, a bill meant to provide long-term stable funding for the FAA, something that most everyone involved in aviation had been supporting. The amendment is Shuster’s last-gasp effort to remove the U.S. air traffic control system from the FAA and allow it to be run by a board where the airlines will have unparalleled control. AOPA is asking pilots and anyone who cares about the future of the U.S. air traffic system to contact their member of Congress today and tell them to oppose Section 5 of the Shuster amendment to H.R. 4. A vote on the bill could happen as soon as April 25.
“I am surprised as anyone,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “It doesn’t appear that there has been any effort to gain consensus among anyone, especially after what the industry has been through for the last two years on this issue.”
In February, Shuster pulled the long-debated bill, opposed by nearly all segments of general aviation and numerous unions, local mayors, small airports, and others, saying he could not build enough support to get it passed in the House. Shuster, who has announced he will not run for re-election, implied he was ready to instead focus on a bill that could be supported by all stakeholders. However, Section 5 of the amendment he introduced late April 23, just hours before a planned vote, calls for moving the FAA Air Traffic Organization, the entity inside the FAA tasked with managing air traffic control, to report to the Department of Transportation. The amendment also appoints a 13-member board to “advise” the DOT bureaucracy on how to run the system. The board resembles the same airline-influenced board Shuster had in the bill he withdrew in February.
“This potentially could raise safety issues as well,” added Coon. “There is no entity other than the FAA with the expertise, knowledge, and experience to run the largest, most complex air traffic system in the world."
Coon went on to say, “It solves none of the problems we all should be focusing on. It does nothing to reduce delays; it doesn’t advance modernization of the air traffic system, it doesn’t create efficiencies, and it won’t lower air fares. It’s essentially the same proposal that failed but it gives control to the airlines inside of government as opposed to outside, and not too many people support that principle.
To do that, Baker called for a summit of all air traffic stakeholders to determine the future of the system.
“Rather than backdoor deals, let’s pass a long-term funding bill for the FAA and then sit down in the open and put together a plan to advance modernization in a productive way,” Baker said.
AOPA and most all GA stakeholders support the language in H.R. 4—minus Section 5 in the last-minute Shuster amendment. The bill would establish a five-year authorization for the FAA, just the sort of funding plan the airlines and GA have said is necessary to give the agency the time to plan and implement ATC modernization.
“It’s imperative that pilots call their member of Congress today and tell them to oppose Section 5 of the Shuster Amendment to H.R. 4,” Baker reiterated. “We can’t let this last-minute backroom deal change our ATC system forever.”