Hundreds of attendees attending AirVenture 2017 attended a rally led by EAA and other aviation industry leaders to share outrage over a new aviation reauthorization bill and mobilize immediate and strong opposition and outreach. The bill, H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act, introduced by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA-9) reauthorizes funding for FAA and contains a provision that would separate the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization into an independent, congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation.
As noted in the bill, “the proposed corporation would be governed by a 13-member board of directors composed of individuals representing certain aviation stakeholder groups. To finance the costs of providing air traffic services, the bill would authorize the corporation to charge fees to users of such services and to issue debt.”
EAA President Jack Pelton, along with leaders of AOPA, NBAA and GAMA, described themselves as the face of over 170 aviation organizations that have quickly joined together in opposition to this bill. “This issue is overwhelmingly concerning to the aviation community,” said Pelton.
Mark Baker, AOPA President, described member input from recent AOPA town halls held across the country. “No one supports the privatization of ATC.”
The concerns have also drawn the attention of former US Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger. In a 31-second ad available at ATCnotforsale.com, Sullenberger says that privatizing ATC would hand “control to the largest airlines, giving them the keys to the kingdom.”
Pelton described his perspective on the ATC provisions of the bill. “This provision takes a public interest and asset that has had billions in public investments, that is the safest, best run and most efficient system in the entire world, and hand a monopoly to a board of directors that has never managed an ATC, and each member has very specific personal interest or financial interests in how this system operates.” Pelton anticipates General Aviation would have a “token role on the board” and referenced relayed comments from bill proponents Representatives Shuster and Duffey (R-WI-07) that General Aviation would be a “cost center”. Panel members noted GA groups were not consulted on this bill. A review of the committee website also reveals no public hearings were held since the bill was introduced on June 22, 2017.
Pelton also described potential long term, unintended consequences based on the experience of 60+ systems that have privatized, referencing the U.K., Australia, and Germany.
Panel participants described factors that require an immediate and need for strong public outrage noting the bill has support from the White House, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, and major airlines funneling millions on lobbying and media advertising that propels numerous “myths” such as an outdated ATC system and the ability of privatization to solve commercial airline delays. Numerous references were made by panel members to facts that counter the media barrage of myths. “Over 70% of aviation delays are associated with a lack of pavement scheduling and weather in the Northeast Corridor,” said GAMA President Peter Bunce. “General aviation pioneered ADSB, GPS and WAAS, which has numerous opportunities to access the nationís vast system of airports. Commercial airlines didn’t invest.”
In discussing the urgency, association leaders described the potential of privatization effort is on a fast-track. H.R. 2997 passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee along party lines, with one exception, and could be up for a vote by full House of Representatives, potentially as early as this week. Panelists noted disappointed that members of the GA Caucus, such as Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO-6), support this bill. “Any protections in this bill for GA are fragile,” said Pelton.
In describing the legislative reconciliation process, Pelton noted, “this will be a long-term fight. As the administration is hell bent on “yes”, your members of Congress in both the House and Senate need to hear from you. Emphasize that they must vote “NO” to ATC privatization. While the Senateís version of the bill does not include privatization of ATC, association leaders anticipated “games” during the reconciliation process. Pelton noted the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) signed on to the most recent letter opposing the bill, but was later contacted by Rep. Shuster to withdraw and provide support for the bill if they wanted the provisions that support their interests. Pelton, who is a member of AMA, received a letter from AMA asking him to support the bill.
Ed Bolen, President of NBAA, emphasized the history of U.S. Airlines wanting to take control of FAA and run the aviation system for their benefit. “This has been a fight with the airlines for over 25 years. Taking a monopoly to the U.S. airline cartel is not a good conservative philosophy.”
“They have not thought this through,” noted Bunce. “It will take a long time to transition. The situation could change, and a corporate board would charge user-fees in a heart-beat. Think what this could do in stifling the future of UAVs. What happens to pricing for subscriptions to navigation data?”
EAA and AOPA noted a call to action web page to make it quick and easy to contact Congress and includes talking points. AOPA also has a smartphone app.
Questions from the audience reflected outrage at the lack of transparency and the need to send a strong message to House members on how this could impact future reelection support. All panel participants emphasized the importance of voicing opposition in strong terms, demand a conversation with representatives and reaching out locally, to friends, family and local businesses leaders to build advocacy in opposing the bill.