Legislation Introduced to Privatize Air Traffic Control

Legislation has been introduced in the House to privatize the nation’s air traffic control systems. It failed in the past, but could it succeed this time?

Legislation was introduced in the House today to formally privatize the FAA’s air traffic control system, something that President Trump recently said he wanted to see happen.

The 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2997) is a six year reauthorization bill of the Federal Aviation Administration. It also contains a provision to create an independent, non-profit corporation to operate and modernize the air traffic control systems.

In a statement from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the new privatized system was described as follows:

The bill separates the ATC service operator from the regulating agency (FAA), freeing it from the government’s inherent bureaucratic inertia, Washington politics, and funding uncertainty. The service provider will run like a business, something the FAA has been unable to do despite numerous reforms by Congress, and will have the freedom to innovate and create efficiencies in ways that are impossible within a federal bureaucracy.

The bill would establish the American Air Navigation Services Corporation, a non-profit corporation governed by a board including the transportation secretary, individuals nominated by airlines, and union representatives.

Senate Bill

A reauthorization bill was also introduced in the Senate today as well. Conspicuously absent from the Senate version of the bill, however, is privatization of the air traffic control systems.

The Senate bill, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S. 1405), keeps air traffic control under jurisdiction of the FAA.

Union Reaction

Reaction from federal employee unions to the proposal has been mixed. Seven different organizations representing federal employees sent a letter back in May to Congressional leaders expressing opposition to the idea of privatizing the air traffic control systems.

“As representatives of thousands of FAA employees, both labor and management, we oppose privatization of any of the functions or services within the FAA,” wrote the groups in their letter.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), however, came out in favor of the proposal today.

Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, said in a statement after the bill was introduced in the House, “After extremely careful review, consideration, and deliberation, we have decided to support the bill because it fully aligns with NATCA’s policies, practices, and core principles. We made sure that we clearly understood how this bill would protect the National Airspace System (NAS) and allow it to continue to grow, as well as how it would protect the men and women who are the backbone of the system. This bill protects our workforce – including pay, benefits, retirement, and collective bargaining rights.”

Going Forward

Congressman Bill Shuster (R-PA) has introduced legislation in the past to privatize the air traffic control systems, but it ultimately failed to advance. However, with the White House now behind the idea, there is a greater possibility that it could move forward in the current Congress.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.