A hearing Wednesday in Congress highlighted the steep challenges that remain for Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, and his effort to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.
Shuster’s plan got a boost in March when President Donald Trump publicly called for the system’s privatization. As head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster has made the plan — which would turn the system over to a nongovernment body heavily influenced by airlines — a key part of his agenda.
“No other single infrastructure reform has as much potential to improve air travel for the average American flier or to ensure our hard-earned leadership in aviation,” he said in the hearing.
Shuster has drawn support from many important sources, including the air traffic controllers union and some of the nation’s largest airlines. But his efforts have a time limit — and ongoing chaos in Washington would only slow them down.
Democrats on Shuster’s committee have opposed the bill, as have members of the union representing air traffic control technicians and mechanical workers. Delta Airlines officials expressed concerns about the plan last year, and there’s little indication they have changed their minds, according to industry news accounts.
Wednesday’s hearing featured a union representative, a conservative think-tank member and a propeller manufacturer but no airline officials — a fact Democratic member Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., pointed out.
“I know that the airlines aren’t here today, perhaps because they haven’t looked so great lately in the public,” DeFazio said.
With Democrats and stakeholders not fully behind his effort, Shuster faces an uphill climb. And his time isn’t unlimited: He’s months from the five-year mark in his three-term — or six-year — limit atop the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Real change can be difficult. We’ve learned that over the last year,” Shuster told the committee last week. “But the broader lesson over the last several decades is that the true risk lies in doing nothing.”