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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lawmakers Considering Bill to Privatize U.S. Air Traffic Control

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today 04-21-2015] A new bill introduced by Congressman John Mica, R-Fla., would privatize Air Traffic Control (ATC) in the United States, as the FAA continues to modernize the system. The proposed legislation follows a House subcommittee hearing last month in which aviation experts evaluated the private models that countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom use to oversee air traffic control.
 
 
Air Traffic Control tower at Reagan National Airport. Photo: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA)
 
The Air Traffic Controller Reform and Employee Stock Ownership Act of 2015 would require the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to transfer air traffic control personnel from the FAA to a private corporation. All other safety and certification related air transportation responsibilities would remain under the control of the FAA. The bill also proposes that prior to transferring controllers or FAA property used for ATC to the private corporation, the Transportation Secretary would have to consult with pilots, representatives from commercial airlines and the "organization representing the largest number of air traffic controllers."
 
Mica believes that removing the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) from the FAA in this new model would provide a more efficient method for implementing NextGen, which is the agency's initiative to modernize the U.S. air transportation system. 
 
“The U.S. economy loses tens of billions of dollars annually as the transition to a next generation air traffic control system falls further behind. This model, in one form or another, has worked successfully in countries around the world. Now is the time to act boldly and bring our air traffic control operations into the 21st Century," Mica said in a statement along with the introduction of the bill. 
 
Mica introduced the bill as lawmakers continue to consider the upcoming FAA reauthorization, with funding from the Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2012 scheduled to run out in September. 
 
During a speech before the Aero Club of Washington on Monday April 20, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi expressed support for a new Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) model under the upcoming FAA reauthorization, indicating that steady funding remains a challenge that has already caused major delays in the rollout of NextGen.
 
“The status quo of unstable, unpredictable funding for the National Airspace System has led to serious problems at the FAA,” said Rinaldi, referring to previous difficulties that have resulted from short term funding due to government shutdowns, sequestration and the 23 different authorization extensions that the FAA has experienced in recent years. 
 
“It cannot finance long-term projects, develop the system for new users or modernize our country’s aging infrastructure. The FAA has also struggled to maintain proper resources and staff at our busiest air traffic control facilities,” said Rinaldi.
 
Other benefits of a privatized air traffic control corporation noted by Mica include a reduction in government spending, as privatization would reduce the number of federal employees and improve working conditions for controllers. 
 
At a Senate Commerce Committee Hearing last week, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta also expressed support for a "bold" FAA reauthorization program, although he did not mention the possibility of a privatized ATC structure. 
 
"We can’t afford a 'business as usual' approach, especially if we want to maintain U.S. global influence," said Huerta. "We need reauthorization to allow the FAA to better align our resources with the needs of the NAS by providing the FAA greater flexibility to modify our service levels to support changing industry demand, and by establishing a collaborative, transparent and binding process to modernize FAA’s facilities and equipment and match our footprint to the demand for air travel." 
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