Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA) introduced legislation today that would remove 30,000 federal employees from the government’s payroll while simultaneously turning much of the nation’s air traffic control system over to an independently operated, non-profit corporation.
Known as the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act (H.R. 4441), the bill would provide six-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as well as maintain the FAA’s role as the Nation’s aviation safety regulator.
However, the legislation would set up an independent, not-for-profit corporation, outside of the federal government, designed to modernize and provide U.S. air traffic control (ATC) services. The federally chartered air traffic control corporation will be governed by a board representing the aviation system’s users and the public interest.
An article in the Wall Street Journal described the governing board as follows:
“Part of a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure, the proposal calls for creating a standalone, nonprofit corporation funded by user fees that would take over the agency’s responsibilities for managing air-traffic operations and oversee modernization of the system.
“According to one industry official who has seen the language, it envisions an 11-member governing board—with seats assigned to labor, airline and private-aviation interests—and a three-year phase-in period.”
Speaking on the bill, Shuster said:
“The United States has led the world in aviation since pioneering this modern mode of transportation. We have the safest system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill. But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system. Furthermore, the FAA’s overly bureaucratic certification processes are handicapping American companies and causing us to fall behind our competition.
“The AIRR Act is transformational legislation that removes over 30,000 people from the federal government’s payroll. It prepares the U.S. aviation system for the future, helps ensure a modern, safe system that benefits passengers and the economy, and keeps America competitive in a vital industry all while significantly reducing the federal government’s footprint in our air travel.”
Federal employee unions were quick to decry the legislation. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) said in a statement:
“The reauthorization of the FAA is a critically important piece of legislation that ensures the continued operation and modernization of this country’s aviation system, as well as the jobs of thousands of federal employees. While we continue to analyze the draft of the bill as a whole, as representatives of these federal employees, we are discouraged to note the inclusion of language seeking to privatize the portion of the FAA responsible for air traffic control.
“Making massive changes to the FAA’s structure is neither a prudent nor responsible decision to move the agency forward. Privatizing the FAA will only add uncertainty and potentially reverse major advancements that have been made over the past several years toward modernization. It is paramount to ensure that the FAA has a consistent and adequate funding stream. However, this does not require changing the entire structure and turning it over to a private corporation to make funding and governing decisions, possibly subjecting the system to economic downturns and financial hardships.
“FAA employees are public servants who ensure the safety of the flying public. A privatized model that functions without oversight could lead to self-serving agendas, taking control out of the public’s hands. Who is going to ensure the public airspace is operated fairly and openly for all of the diverse users of the system and for the public’s benefit? This is the priority for federal employees at the FAA and should not be entrusted to a private corporation, regardless if it is a for-profit or not-for-profit entity.”
Some Democrats in the House were also opposed to the bill and predicted the bill is likely to face delays moving forward.