A proposal to decouple the U.S. air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration suffered a setback as a Senate panel excluded it from its FAA reauthorization bill.
The proposal, backed by President Donald Trump earlier in June, would put ATC under the control of a nonprofit corporation governed by a board that would include airline representatives. The House version of FAA reauthorization that passed in committee earlier in the week included the provision, but—as was the case last year—it lacked sufficient support from the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee.
“I am opposed to ATC privatization, no matter what form it might take,” Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and ranking member on the committee, said in testimony earlier in June. “We currently have the safest air traffic control system in the world. Why risk that by handing the whole thing over to an untested, unproven entity?”
Proponents say the move would speed ATC upgrades, including the ongoing transition to the satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System by relieving it from the control of the federal budget cycle. Airlines largely have supported the idea.
Each version of reauthorization must now pass a full vote in its respective chamber of Congress, after which legislators will hash out the differences. The current FAA authorization expires Sept. 30, so time to build support in the Senate is limited.
Both versions did have some areas of concord, however. Each would make removing already-boarded passengers from flights illegal, a response to the highly publicized, aggressive removal of David Dao from a United flight earlier this year. The House version also sets minimum standards for airplane seat size, while the Senate version merely calls for a study on the issue.