Senators from both parties are voicing concerns over any legislation that separates air traffic control from the federal government and gives it to a nonprofit organization.
In a letter to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee this week, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its transportation subcommittee said “it does not appear to make sense to break apart the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].”
Lawmakers are preparing to assemble legislation to reauthorize the FAA, whose legal authority expires in September.
“The public would not be well-served by exempting any part of the FAA from congressional oversight,” they wrote. “The annual appropriations process provides the oversight of agency resources necessary to ensure accountability for program performance and a sustained focus on aviation safety.”
The lawmakers argued that there would be no recourse for consumer complaints or mistreatment if a nongovernmental agency was in charge of air traffic control.
They also dismissed the notion that the current operations face a lack of stable funding, saying the assertion was “simply inaccurate.”
One of the chief arguments behind the spinoff plan is that air traffic control operations, which are subject to the annual appropriations process, face constant political and funding uncertainty.
Proponents also point out that many other developed countries, like Canada, already follow a similar nonprofit model and that the U.S. has struggled with aviation modernization.
A proposal to separate air traffic control was included in last year’s House bill to reauthorize the FAA, but the legislation stalled amid opposition from GOP tax writers and appropriators. Their lack of support was a major hurdle for the plan.
While Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is hopeful that he will be able to overhaul air traffic control in this year’s FAA bill – especially with President Trump vowing to modernize the nation’s airports – it appears Republican appropriators have not yet warmed up to the idea.