U.S. House and Senate lawmakers are each expected to consider comprehensive FAA reauthorization packages later this month, but similar to last year, the bills are expected to vary significantly from each other on the air traffic control issue. The Senate is anticipated to introduce its bill in a few days and the Commerce Committee is said to have tentatively set a June 28 date for consideration. It is less clear when the House will introduce a bill, but that likely will occur in upcoming days as well, with a June 27 consideration tentatively planned for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Senate bill is expected to bring back many of the issues that did not progress last year, such as regulatory and certification reforms and consumer protections. However, the Senate bill is not expected to include any significant restructuring of the ATC organization or call for separating the organization out of the FAA.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) reiterated during a hearing last month that he wanted a bipartisan bill and has continued to show reluctance to push a proposal that he believes could not receive the votes to pass. A significant portion of members of his panel represent states with large rural regions and those members expressed strong reservations about the independent ATC concept to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao during a hearing earlier this month.
The House bill, meanwhile, is anticipated to bring back the proposal offered last year to create an independent ATC. That bill, spearheaded by the architect of the FAA reform proposal, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), also is expected to bring back a number of similar measures such as certification reform. The ATC reform proposal is expected to differ slightly from the proposal introduced by President Trump, as well as incorporate slight modifications from the proposal introduced last year.
But Shuster has made clear the basic goal would remain the same: to create an independent, user-funded organization.
Industry advocates doubt that the ATC reform proposal will get much traction in the Senate and believe it has a difficult road in the House. But if he is unable to move the proposal in FAA reauthorization, Shuster may get another “bite of the apple” with a comprehensive infrastructure package that is in the works on Capitol Hill.