Two Floridians could have a lot to say about the fate of President Donald Trump’s proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.
And neither of them like it.
As the top Democrat on the GOP-controlled Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Bill Nelson is in a position to reshape – or at least slow down – a plan he’s already dismissed as short-sighted and disruptive.
And as the top Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the transportation budget, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami holds important sway over whether Congress will move forward with a proposal he said would likely hurt consumers.
Trump proposed last week to privatize air-traffic control as a way to make flights more reliable. Under the plan, controllers would move from the Federal Aviation Administration to a nonprofit corporation governed by a 13-member board of industry stakeholders. The board will initially have members representing airlines, unions and airports.
Airlines have strongly urged the change as a way to make funding more reliable so that ground-based radar can be upgraded faster to satellite-based GPS. Greater precision in tracking planes is expected to make routes more efficient and reduce fuel consumption and emissions while allowing for more flights.
“Our plan will get you where you need to go more quickly, more reliably, more affordably and yes, for the first time in a long time, on time,” Trump said when he announced the proposal.
Most Democrats, including Nelson, say it’s a bad idea.
“So, let’s hand over to the airlines all the people and the equipment essential to the safe operation of our nation’s air-traffic control system and trust them, the airlines, to manage our skies and the increasing air traffic,” he said on the Senate floor recently. “How can we trust airlines to govern an entity that manages our skies when it can’t even manage its own basic IT systems?”
Diaz-Balart said he’s opposed because he believes congressional oversight is the best way to protect against higher fees or noise complaints from new flight routes.
“I think it potentially could create great risk if we were to hand decisions over to an unaccountable corporate board,” he told Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao during a subcommittee hearing Thursday.
Under a corporation, controllers would still have to obey safety regulations from the FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization, she responded. Noise complaints, meanwhile, still would be governed by FAA and residents could still complain to Congress.
“The public would have the same recourse to appeal to their congressmen and their senators as they do now,” Chao said.