US transport chief to table radical ATC overhaul

Legislation will be tabled today that could revolutionise US air traffic control.

Sources close to Republican politician Bill Shuster – the House transportation chairman who is tabling the fast-track legislative attempt – tell Air Traffic Management that the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Organization would be moved out of direct government control and reconstituted as a non-profit, tax-exempt, federally chartered corporation.

Although details are scant, it is being billed by the US media as the greatest shakeup in US air travel for four decades and an attempt to strip air traffic control from the FAA and hand it to a separate body controlled by ‘huge swathes of the aviation industry it’s supposed to oversee’.

Supporters of the move — including three former secretaries of transportation, a former FAA administrator and three past FAA COOs — say the attempt would boost NextGen efforts to modernise air traffic control technologies faster while insulating US aviation from fiscal feuds in Congress.

“There was a time when the United States was the gold standard in every aspect of air traffic control. Those days of global leadership, regrettably, are gone,“ they state. “The accumulated effects of budget unpredictability and a bureaucratic organisational structure have slowed progress on implementing next-generation technologies and inhibited our ability to properly staff facilities and procure the best equipment … The ATC service provider should be regulated at arms-length by the FAA, just as air carriers, aircraft and engine manufacturers, and all other components of the aviation system are regulated by the FAA.”

US airlines have also lent their considerable support to Shuster’s proposal which fulfils a policy position they have pursued for more than a decade. Opposition to the move comes from consumer groups, general aviation manufacturers and that sector’s trade organisations, Delta Air Lines and some Democrats politicians who claim dismantling the FAA could give the airlines disproportionate control over an aviation system that must also serve the needs of private and business aviation in addition to small airports serving rural communities. They also question whether change is needed at a time when US aviation is enjoying its safest period ever.

“We do not believe that creating a separate air traffic entity, removed from congressional oversight, will advance efforts to modernise air traffic control,” said several politicians in a letter to House leadership.

The Obama administration has yet to declare its support either for change or for maintaining the status quo while air traffic controllers’ union NATCA has spoken of the need for budgetary stability as well as its opposition to transforming the Air Traffic Organization into a for-profit organisation.

Although details have been withheld, several transportation committee members have recently been briefed: “It would be handled by a private entity outside the government,” Republican congressman Reid Ribble told US website POLITICO. “I’ve not seen the wording of the proposal yet, we just got kind of a review of it, but it’s going to be similar to other models out there.”

It is understood that Shuster’s model would be entirely self-supporting from fees charged for ATC services, could issue bonds based on revenue and would be governed by aviation stakeholders, selected not by politicians but by the stakeholder groups themselves.

Another colleague predicted that most Republicans will embrace Shuster’s proposal, although pointed out that many interest groups will have to be won over on the future  governance of the proposed air traffic control body.

The legislation is being earmarked for fast tracking with a first committee meeting set for February 11. US Congress must decide whether to deal with the legislative attempt or defer measures before the end of March.

Read Shooting For The Moon?

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, Innovation, News, NextGen Tagged with:

Comments are closed.