While the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday is being touted as a plan for the future of U.S. aviation, it could create dire consequences for the future of personal recreational flying in our nation.
That’s a warning from officials at the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The legislation (H.R. 4441) is a six-year reauthorization of the FAA that includes spinning off air traffic control services into a private not-for-profit corporation that would be administered by an independent board of directors.
The bill’s co-sponsors — Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey), chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee — claim that the legislation will improve efficiency, lower costs, and create better technology solutions for the growing aviation community.
“EAA supports a stable, predictable funding mechanism for the national airspace system, but we oppose this bill as it is now written,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO and chairman. “To be fair, there are some good things in the bill for general aviation, which the bill’s co-sponsors say address GA concerns. In particular, that includes the prohibition of user fees, the reintroduction of aeromedical reform as originally intended, certification reform, and additional FAA authority to help deploy a future high-octane unleaded fuel.
“What is also part of the bill, however, is an ATC governance structure that heavily favors airlines and commercial interests, and creates real threats to the services that keep America’s air traffic system the safest and most effective in the world. ATC privatization carries the real possibility of putting GA in the ‘big squeeze’ regarding fees, services, airport access, and the individual freedom to fly for grassroots and recreational flying.”
EAA’s concerns with the legislation include:
Minimal GA input on airspace and access issues: In a privatized system, decisions and priorities are economically driven by those with the deepest pockets. With two seats on an 11-member governing board for the privatized ATC corporation, it would be impossible to adequately represent the broad diversity within general aviation. GA’s voice would often be overwhelmed by a board majority aligned with airlines and commercial aviation interests.
Threats to small, local airports: Most GA flights originate and land at local airports. Safety and efficiency improvements at local airports without commercial service could easily be ignored. In addition, if the corporation’s revenue is lower than expected, services to small, rural airports and to general aviation would likely be the first to be reduced or eliminated.
No civilian input in case of national emergency: After 9/11, the FAA was the only government entity that reminded everyone that the airspace belongs to the people and made sure that GA was included in the re-opening of the airspace despite opposition from security minded entities. There is no such guarantee under a privatized ATC corporation that would be subject only to the nation’s security agencies.
An extra layer of bureaucracy: A privatized corporation still takes funding to operate. The FAA would still exist as a safety agency, but would have to coordinate with another entity at all air operations levels. That creates more bureaucracy, not streamlined efficiency.
Loss of Congressional oversight: There would be no checks-and-balances system in place to ensure that the ATC corporation operates fairly, safely, and that its funds are spent wisely for the benefit of all in our public airspace system. This has been a major point of contention from the leadership of the appropriations committees in both the House and Senate, who have already stated their opposition to ATC privatization.
Questions about aeromedical reform: While the bill includes aeromedical reform language as originally intended, there are concerns that the language would become a bargaining chip during debate on the bill.
“Those involved in recreational and grassroots flying should be worried about this legislation,” Pelton said. “We already have a funding mechanism in place that will work if the FAA is properly reauthorized and funded. Any major change has to be carefully considered as to the impact on all users because fees and costs are just a small part of the puzzle. This new proposal would make it very easy for moneyed interests to roll over the freedom of all individuals to fly.”
EAA’s concerns are echoed by officals at the National Air Transportation Association (NATA),
“NATA cannot support the legislation’s proposal to create a federally chartered, not-for-profit air traffic control corporation,” said NATA President and CEO Thomas Hendricks. “We have been quite clear throughout the development of this legislation that we will not support ‘leap of faith’ proposals that place the fate of any segment of general aviation — in this case the air charter community — in the hands of a yet to be determined board of directors — especially given the fact this segment of general aviation is denied a voice in the corporation’s governance. A user-fee funded ATC corporation, controlled in perpetuity by a board of industry insiders, will place general aviation in constant peril, starve rural America of access to cutting-edge technology, and saddle the travelling public with ever increasing fees.”
NATA officials acknowledge the proposed legislation “contains many provisions that reflect NATA’s suggestions for making the FAA a more efficient organization. While we agree with the chairman that maintaining the status quo risks our nation’s supremacy in aviation, this draft legislation poses even greater risks — to the safe and stable nature of the world’s best air traffic control system and America’s vibrant general aviation community.”
Meanwhile, officials and members of the Alliance for Aviation Across America also are voicing their concerns.
A main one is the “repercussions of ceding unprecedented levels of control to a private board with the authority dominate important decisions about everything from gates, access to airspace and airport funding, to infrastructure investments and new fees and taxes,” the association said in a prepared statement.
Local businesses and officials from rural communities in particular have raised concerns about any proposals to take away Congressional oversight over the air traffic control system, alliance officials said.
In response, Mayor John Manchester of Lewisburg, W.Va., Mayor Joe Gunter of Salinas, Calif., Mayor Stephen Gallihar of Sedalia, Mo., Mayor Rita Albrecht of Bemidji, Minn.,Mayor Steve Williams of Huntington, W.Va., and Mayor Jerry Toomey of Mitchell, S.D., issued this statement, joining in a growing chorus weighing in against the proposal:
“We are opposed to any proposal which would take away Congressional oversight over our air traffic control system. In a privatized system dominated by commercial interests, consumers and smaller communities would come last – these are citizens who have already faced record fees, cuts to air service by 20%, and are getting crammed into smaller and smaller seat spaces. In addition, sectors such as general aviation support jobs, business, agriculture, charitable activity, law enforcement and medical services will be negatively impacted by this proposal. Congressional oversight of the aviation system is necessary to ensure that our air transportation system remains a public benefit and serves communities of all sizes.”