Air Traffic Control Spinoff Approved in House Transportation Committee

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By Shaun Courtney

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a reauthorization of federal aviation programs by a vote of 32-25, June 27, after rejecting a Democratic amendment to halt efforts to spin off air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration.

All committee Democrats voted against the bill, which has two Democratic co-sponsors not on the committee, despite support by Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) for several amendments aimed at broadening support. Committee member Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, was the lone Republican to vote against the measure.

The same House committee approved a similar bill in 2016, but it did not advance to the House floor for a vote. The future of the 2017 bill in the House remains uncertain in the face of opposition from appropriators and tax writers.

Democrats Fall Short

A Democratic amendment to halt the effort to strip the FAA of air traffic control management was rejected in a 34-24 party-line vote.

Ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) offered an amendment that reflected his legislation, the “Aviation Funding Stability Act” (H.R. 2800), which he says would remove constraints on funding and procurement while retaining air traffic within the government.

“This amendment guts the entire purpose of this bill,” Shuster said during debate over the amendment.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will take up June 29 its own bi-partisan FAA reauthorization bill, which does not include an air traffic control privatization provision.

Trust Issues

An amendment that would prevent the estimated $6.7 billion Aviation Trust Fund from being transferred to the proposed private air traffic control organization was approved by voice vote, much to the surprise of its proponent, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.). The trust fund partially finances federal investments in airport construction and safety improvements and is funded with excise taxes including levies on tickets and fuel.

The fate of the funds became an issue the during the committee’s June hearing with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in which she did not offer a firm answer when asked what would happen to the monies if air traffic control was spun off.

Garamendi remarked that he had “whiplash” from his surprise in hearing the chairman’s support.

Shuster backed the amendment, saying it clarified the intent of his bill that the new entity “be completely separate from the government.”

The chairman had not previously clarified his position on the trust fund; he proposes that all physical assets be turned over to the new entity free of charge.

Look Ahead

House leadership could schedule a floor vote on the six-year House bill in July, a goal Shuster identified when he unveiled his bill earlier in June.

The FAA may see a short-term extension until a full reauthorization can pass because of limited work days before the current authorization expires Sept. 30.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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