Despite the growing chorus of opposition both in Congress and among nearly 200 general aviation industry groups, consumer groups, unions, small airports, state aviation departments, and local elected officials—not to mention the $100 billion price tag—the president's fiscal year 2019 budget proposal calls for removing air traffic control operations from the FAA.
Bloomberg reported that even though the administration supports this, “the proposal is largely symbolic given strong bipartisan opposition in Congress.”
This isn’t the first time President Donald Trump has proposed such a plan. He linked it to infrastructure improvements during a White House event shortly after his inauguration in 2017. In June 2017, his 2018 budget request also proposed the change.
A bill in the House, H.R. 2997, introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), would accomplish Trump’s goal, but it has been met with strong and growing opposition.
“The U.S. air traffic system is the largest, most complex and safest in the world,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker. “Giving the tax-payer funded system to special interests will not improve safety or solve delays caused by the airlines and weather events.”
The airlines have claimed that the system is “antiquated” and doesn’t adapt quickly enough to technology changes.
However, the current modernization effort, dubbed NextGen, is on track and has provided several technologies that can improve efficiencies, which the airlines have not equipped their airplanes to take advantage of.
“We don’t need to give away the air traffic system in order to modernize,” Baker reminded. “General aviation supports modernization, not so-called ‘privatization.’”
Shuster’s plan passed his committee last year, but because of vocal opposition by House members, and AOPA members and other pilots, it has not moved to the full House. Many in Congress would like to move on from this divisive issue and pass a long-term FAA reauthorization without handing over ATC to special interests. AOPA members have contacted their members of Congress nearly 200,0000 times in the last six months to voice their opposition.
In the Senate, there is very little support for the change to ATC, and its proposed FAA reauthorization keeps the system as a responsibility of the FAA. The current FAA authorization extension expires March 30, and decisions will have to be made as to whether the fight continues or if an agreement can be reached to move long-term FAA proposals in the House and Senate that do not include the divisive ATC provision.
In the meantime, Baker encourages pilots to continue to remind their members of Congress of their opposition. To learn how you can express your opposition, visit AOPA’s advocacy alert page.