NEW YORK (AP) — With a boost from President Donald Trump, House Republicans are reviving efforts to shift responsibility for the nation’s air traffic control operations to a private, nonprofit corporation.
Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Wednesday the committee will consider his legislation next week. He expects the full House to vote on the bill in mid-July.
A similar effort to move air traffic control operations out of the Federal Aviation Administration faltered in the last Congress. The proposal faces opposition from Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate.
Shuster said his new effort broadens participation on the 13-seat board of directors that will run the new corporation, so no one can claim that any particular group will dominate the panel. Shuster emphasized that board members would have a fiduciary duty to the company, regardless of which stakeholder group they represent.
“Their No. 1 priority has to be the success of this corporation,” Shuster said.
About 35,000 workers, including 14,000 controllers and 6,000 technicians, would be affected by moving air traffic control operations out of the FAA. The agency would still be responsible for ensuring aviation safety.
Shuster’s proposal must overcome concerns from many rural lawmakers. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said at a recent hearing that privatization would hurt “all but our largest airports nationwide,” while removing needed congressional oversight and raising costs for consumers.
Addressing concerns from lawmakers in rural states and districts, Shuster said his bill would protect funding for small and medium-sized airports. He also said the bill creates a remote air traffic control pilot program. Such towers rely on controllers who are off-site and monitor cameras and communications from afar. Remote towers are likely to first go into use at small and medium airports.
“I’m not about to go and hurt the rural airports,” said Shuster.
Earlier this month, Trump endorsed a proposal to privatize air traffic control, saying, “Our air traffic control system is stuck, painfully, in the past.”
Shuster said he believes Trump’s support could make a difference, particularly in the Senate. “When there’s presidential leadership on any issue, you get members of Congress to engage,” he said.
Shuster is selling his proposal as a way to ease congestion at airports and reduced flying time for passengers without compromising safety.
“The average American flier deserves better,” Shuster said.
He said about 60 countries have already moved to the corporation model. The idea is to remove air traffic control from the vagaries of the government budget process, which has limited the FAA’s ability to commit to long-term contracts and raise money for major expenditures.