Thursday, January 12, 2017

Critics urge Trump to ground air traffic control spinoff

Opponents of privatizing the government’s air traffic control operations are urging the incoming Trump administration to reject any overhaul efforts in the new Congress.

In a petition released Wednesday, a coalition of groups equated the plan to spin off air traffic control (ATC) from the federal government to “a fox guarding the henhouse.” 

The effort comes hours before a Senate confirmation hearing on Elaine Chao, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Transportation Department. The hearing will provide senators the opportunity to press Chao on her positions on a wide range of transportation and aviation issues.

“Privatizing Air Traffic Control is a solution in search of a problem at a time when we need to strengthen middle class workers and rural communities instead of leaving hardworking Americans vulnerable to corporate interests,” said Julia Alschuler, a spokesperson for Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization.

“We hope that Congress and the next Administration will hear the concerns of the American people and finally ground this failed proposal once and for all. ”

The coalition includes Daily Kos, In the Public Interest, and People Demanding Action. The founder of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas, is a columnist for The Hill.

Although Trump has not specifically spoken out about air traffic control, he has long talked about the need to modernize the country’s “third-world airports,” raising hopes by proponents of privatization that he may have a sympathetic ear on the issue.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he is once again preparing to introduce a proposal to transfer ATC operations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a not-for-profit corporation.

Shuster plans to tuck the proposal into an upcoming FAA reauthorization bill, which could set the stage for a potential showdown in Congress as some Republicans have opposed the plan.

“We’re going to talk to [the administration], make sure they’re comfortable, they understand it,” Shuster said. “The goal is to try to do as much as we can, but we want to move together with the administration.”

Supporters argue that ATC reform would modernize the U.S. aviation system and bring it in line with countries like Canada that have set up similar outside agencies for air traffic control. The government would still maintain oversight, but the entity would not be subject to the unpredictable appropriations process.

But critics have painted Shuster’s effort as an example of corporate welfare, since the nonprofit entity wouldn’t have to pay for a system that has cost the government tens of billions of dollars. They also say there is no evidence that the overhaul would improve safety or cut down costs.

Shuster was able to muscle his proposal through committee last year — the farthest it has ever gone — but was unable to get a House floor vote amid opposition from his own party.

GOP appropriators don’t like that the plan removes ATC from the congressional appropriations process, while Republican tax-writers are concerned it hands over the power to impose fees for the use of air traffic services to a nongovernmental agency.

“A Republican-led Congress has rejected ATC privatization time and time again on the grounds of safety, feasibility, and overall concern for the American people,” Alschuler said.

Original article can be found here: Hill

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