A leading House lawmaker said Wednesday he would introduce a bill to take management of U.S. airspace away from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), who leads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said his bill would extend the FAA’s general mandate for six years but move air-traffic control functions to a not-for-profit federal corporation over three years.
The bill, which Mr. Shuster said he hopes to bring to the House floor next month, improves on a version he introduced last year that never reached the floor. Mr. Shuster said this version has “increased support across the spectrum,” including from President Donald Trump and more aviation industry stakeholders.
The Trump administration has made air-traffic privatization the centerpiece of its planned infrastructure build-out. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao testified in support of the plan before Congress earlier this month.
Mr. Shuster said the Sept. 30 expiration of the FAA’s current mandate puts pressure on legislators to act quickly.
But the plan still faces deep skepticism from some corners of the aviation industry and on Capitol Hill, where Democrats widely oppose it and Republicans are concerned about its impact in rural airports. The large community of private pilots has also raised concerns that the fees they pay for using the airspace would rise.
Rep. Shuster said private pilots of small planes would be exempt from paying user fees. Small airports will still have access to federal funding for safety and equipment projects, and the ability to use contractors to staff their airport towers. The FAA will be the safety organization overseeing the new air-traffic service provider, he said.
The new agency would be headed by a 13-member board of directors including representatives from the Transportation Department, major airlines, regional carriers, private pilots, other aviation companies and unions representing existing FAA controllers and pilots.
“No one group can dominate,” the new corporation Mr. Shuster said.
The FAA’s efforts to modernize its air-traffic control systems would become the responsibility of the new entity. Mr. Shuster said many of the FAA’s modernization efforts to date haven’t yielded the promised changes.