WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the holidays approaching, some of us will be booking flights to visit our friends and family. But with prices always seeming to go up and leg room a more precious commodity than gold, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster proposed H.R. 2997 to address these issues as well as modernizing the Air Traffic Control.
This bill proposes chartering ATC to a private, not-for-profit company to address the outdated technology and procedures, and regulations to benefit the passengers, such as those on minimum seat size requirements and transparency on taxes and hidden fees.
The bill also advocates against involuntary bumping of passengers who have already boarded the plane, prohibiting use of voice communication devices during flights, requiring that large and medium commercial airports must provide clean, private rooms for nursing mothers in every terminal and airlines would be required to post a prominent link on their website in response to wide spread destruction of their computer systems detailing hotel accommodation, ground transportations other airport accommodations, and meal vouchers for affected passengers.
The Federal Aviation Administration would be directed to work with International Civil Aviation and other countries on standards for improving the tracking of aircrafts over oceans as well as other safety measures.
The bill would also allocate more funding to the Airport Infrastructure Program. According to www.countable.us, airports would receive $3.424 billion in funding for fiscal year 2018 and funding would gradually rise year after year to $3.817 billion in FY 2023.
It would also give more flexibility in financing airport projects and streamline the Passenger Facility Charge application process. PFC is a fee implemented by commercially-owned airports to fund FAA approved projects to enhance safety and security, to reduce noise or increase competition amongst air carriers.
According to an article written by president of www.freedomworks.org Adam Brandon, the ATC is under fire because the technology it uses has not been updated in decades, and has been subject to increased flight delay and wasteful spending. He argues the bill will promote safety and improve services to passengers.
“Although there is room for improvement for every bill, FreedomWorks believes the 21st Century AIRR Act brings a long overdue series of reforms to the FAA,” Brandon wrote.
But not everyone is singing praises to this bill. Oklahoma’s Aeronautics Commission Director, Oklahoma Airport Association, Oklahoma Business Aviation Association and Oklahoma Pilots Association released a press release opposing the bill.
They argue that the privatization of ATC would increase the national deficit and be a threat to national security.
In a press release, they state that the Congressional Budget Office said the bill would raise the deficit by $100 billion. The Congressional Research Services said it was “unlikely constitutional,” and the Government Accountability Office said privatizing would interfere with ATC programs that have delivered $2.7 billion in benefits to all users of the system and are on budget.
Many pilots and aviation specialists have also spoken out against the bill, according to the release.
Notable pilot Captain Sully Sullenberger said in a press release that it would devastate rural communities. Jim Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13 said turning the ATC system over to a private board that is unaccountable to Congress would be a threat to national security.
“[Bill H.R. 2997 will] add billions to our national deficit, negatively impact our national security, and needlessly complicate border protection,” said Greg McWherther, a retired Navy captain who flew lead position in for the Blue Angels from 2009 to 2012.
Passenger and consumer rights groups have voiced their concerns with the bill. In a press release issued on Oc. 6, it states that under the privatization plan oversight for air traffic control, oversight would be transferred from the FAA to a corporate board.
This board is largely controlled by an industry with no seats for consumer or passenger rights groups.
“From major computer meltdowns, lost luggage and children, and dragging passengers down the aisles of aircraft, the airlines have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to manage their own operations let alone the world’s busiest air traffic control system. They point fingers at air traffic control by the DOT’s [Department of Transportation] own data confirms that the airlines themselves are responsible for the vast majorities of delays,” said Paul Hudson, president of www.FlyerRights.org in the release.
The board would also have the power to raise fees and taxes on passengers and cut access to community airports.
“Privatizing air traffic control system would allow the airlines to run it for their own benefit and further direct investment and infrastructure away from thousands of smaller communities around the country, including many towns that have already lost commercial air service,” said Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation in America.
The issues in this bill are complicated, but how will this affect you? Although privatizing the ATC could potentially increase customer care, it could also decrease national security since it will be out of congressional control and regulation. Some also worry ticket prices will increase, but that is debated.
Between the heavy increase to the deficit it is estimated to cause, to the lack of access to rural communities, to the modernization of our aviation system, to the safety of our passengers, one thing we do know is that the crying baby behind you on your flight is the worst.
The bill was introduced on June 22 and is pending action in the U.S. House of Representatives.