The House Transportation Committee Chairman, Bill Shuster, today unveiled his bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, make other aviation changes and, significantly, privatize U.S. air traffic control. The bill would create a federally chartered, not-for-profit corporation called the American Air Navigation Services Corporation. The purpose, according to the proposed legislation, is to “provide for the more efficient operation and improvement of air traffic services.” Although federally-chartered, the corporation would not be a part of the United States government. It would be subject to “performance-based regulations and minumum safety standards” but otherwise responsible for establishing and managing US air traffic services.
The bill would take air traffic out of the hands of the federal government and put it in a private company run by a CEO and 12 directors. Two directors would be appointed by the Secretary of Transportation. The airlines would nominate 3 directors. Lobbying groups for – the bill refers to them euphemistically as “the principal organizations representing” – general aviation, business aviation owners and operators, aviation-related entities (such as fixed-base operators), general aviation manufacturers, major airports and airport executives would nominate a total of 3 directors. One director each would be nominated by unions representing air traffic controllers and airline pilots. Two additional directors would be nominated and selected by the other directors.
While the bill provides conflict of interest and fiduciary requirements, I do not believe they are sufficient to overcome the nominating process which puts far too much control of our nation’s skies in a very small group of interested parties – the airlines and aviation lobbying groups. Notably absent from the Board is any requirement for passenger or consumer representation. Nor is there any provision for unmanned aircraft to hold a seat.
In my opinion, the FAA could certainly improve on the speed with which it is modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system. But it’s done a commendable job keeping the skies safe and balancing the needs of the myriad users of the system which now includes a growing presence of unmanned aircraft. Changing control of the nation’s skies should not be undertaken lightly and certainly should not be put in the hands of private parties with inherent conflicts of interest in use of the airspace.
Fortunately, the Senate’s proposed FAA reauthorization bill does not include any provision for privatizing air traffic control. Let’s hope the House provisions don’t make it out of the transportation committee.