US democrats offer alternative to Trump ATC privatisation plan, accelerate NextGen reform

A top-ranking democrat on the United States congressional aviation subcommittee has been joined by fellow democrats on the House transport committee to reject President Trump’s plan to privatise America’s air traffic control system.

Rick Larsen, ranking member on the aviation subcommittee, has introduced H.R. 2800, the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2017, which aims to strengthen and speed up the reforms taking place at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its ATC system through the NextGen initiative.

“This bill meaningfully complements NextGen’s progress,” said Larsen. “By providing certainty to the FAA’s funding streams and boosting reforms to the FAA’s personnel and procurement systems this bill presents an opportunity to accelerate modernisation of the FAA, which is something I think folks on both sides of the aisle can get behind.”

“If we truly want to fix the real problems facing the FAA today, the solution is simple: Congress can and should pass targeted reforms. Today, democrats on the transportation committee offered targeted measures that guarantee that investments in our aviation system are not subject to Congressional dysfunction.

“Our alternative provides a stable, predictable funding stream for aviation programmes; directs the FAA to run modernisation programmes using streamlined best practices; requires FAA to reform its personnel system; gives users a bigger role in managing the aviation system through the FAA’s Management Advisory Council; and authorises funding to rebuild and modernise aging air traffic control facilities. Targeted reforms can achieve our common objectives without jeopardizing our nation’s outstanding aviation safety record. I urge my Republican colleagues to reject ATC privatisation, and support our proposal for real, achievable modernization and reform,” said fellow democrat Peter DeFazio.

They claim the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2017 would help ensure investments in the US aviation system are not subject to Congressional dysfunction and would streamline the acquisition of NextGen technology, equipment certification, and ATC management.

Key provisions include:

  • Provide the FAA with mandatory spending authority in order to maintain stable, predictable FAA funding.
  • Ensure that revenues collected from flying passengers (i.e. ticket taxes) are invested in the aviation system. Beginning October 1, Trust Fund revenues and uncommitted cash balance are immediately available to be invested in the aviation system. These funds are not subject to appropriation, budget sequestration, or any directive of the Office of Management and Budget – the funds are off budget. In addition, the bill authorizes such sums as necessary from the General Fund for FAA Operations to address any possible shortfall in Trust Fund revenues, and it exempts any General Fund share from sequestration.
  • Require top-to-bottom reforms of the FAA’s personnel and procurement systems. In 1995 and 1996, Congress exempted the FAA from government-wide personnel and procurement rules. But the Department of Transportation Inspector General has often reported that the FAA has not taken full advantage of these reforms, leading to delays and cost overruns in modernization programs and low workforce productivity. The bill requires the FAA to develop a streamlined procurement system that is up to the task of governing high-tech, high-value acquisitions in NextGen technology. It also requires the FAA to update its personnel management system to provide incentives for good performance, among other things. With these reforms, the FAA will be able to institute personnel and procurement reform.
  • Elevate the role of the FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC), a government-industry panel that advises the FAA Administrator on strategic issues facing the FAA. The bill requires the Administrator to respond in writing to each recommendation of the MAC with respect to management of the air traffic control system within 90 days of receipt. If the Administrator disagrees with the recommendation, the Administrator must explain his or her rationale. If the Administrator agrees with the recommendation, the Administrator’s response must include a timeline for implementation.
  • Removes bureaucratic barriers within the FAA. The bill directs the agency to cross-utilize staff across disciplines wherever feasible and to break down internal silos so employees can freely share ideas, and so that offices can better collaborate and coordinate with one another in managing complex tasks like certifying new airliner designs and running the air traffic control system.
  • Authorize funds to rebuild and modernize aging air traffic control facilities across the United States. The bill authorizes the FAA to use the uncommitted balance of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to rebuild, modernize, and sustain air traffic control facilities.

“Earlier this week, President Trump announced a plan that would privatize ATC, leave the FAA’s critical safety oversight processes without a funding source, and jeopardize aviation safety by subjecting the remaining FAA to Congressional shutdowns, budget cuts, and sequestration,” they claim. “Under the Trump plan, a private corporation would have the power to tax the flying public to pay for the ATC system without Congressional oversight or judicial review. The Trump plan severely limits current public participation requirements regarding aircraft noise when adjusting airspace routes over homes across the United States.”

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