Recently, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure considered the AIRR Act, legislation with a controversial provision that would spin off the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system to a private corporation, run by a 13-person, industry-dominated board. I led the opposition to this controversial proposal.
When considering changes to the most complex ATC system in the world, safety must be our No. 1 priority. Unfortunately, the AIRR Act would jeopardize safety by splitting the FAA in two and leaving safety programs and more than 7,400 FAA safety employees vulnerable to congressional budget cuts and shutdowns. It also would sever ties between the Department of Defense and the ATC system, which have protected the American public during national emergencies.
Not only would the AIRR Act jeopardize funding for aviation safety, it’s a terrible deal for the traveling public. The corporation could pick winners and losers by setting ATC standards without public oversight. The AIRR Act would give the corporation the ability to tax American consumers to pay for the ATC system. The corporation would decide flight routes and could disregard aircraft noise issues. It could also jeopardize access to the aviation system in smaller cities and rural communities. Finally, the AIRR Act would give valuable publicly owned ATC assets to the corporation for free, while leaving taxpayers to bail out the corporation if it can’t pay to operate the system.
There is bipartisan agreement that the FAA needs real reform. I offered an amendment that struck the ATC privatization plan and protected our annual $16 billion investment in our aviation system from congressional dysfunction by moving it off the budget. The amendment also mandated reforms of the FAA’s personnel and procurement systems. Unfortunately, this amendment was rejected.
The AIRR Act would not fix the real problems plaguing the FAA. Congress should pass targeted solutions — not a risky privatization scheme that puts industry in charge of our aviation system and leaves consumers unprotected.
Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon is the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.