Three former heads of the nation’s air traffic control operations endorsed a White House proposal to spin off air traffic management into a non-governmental entity, in a letter to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).
Former Federal Aviation Administration chief operating officers Russell Chew (2003-2007), Henry “Hank” Krakowski (2007-2011), and David Grizzle (2011-2013) backed a proposal announced by the administration June 5 that would remove operation and funding for air traffic control from the FAA. President Donald Trump’s proposal closely mirrors a 2016 bill by Shuster that didn’t make it to the House floor for a vote.
“Only by taking this step, will the U.S. be able to regain its global leadership and preserve the safety and efficiency that our citizens have relied upon for so many years,” the three wrote in a letter dated June 8 and released June 13.
The letter called for “transformational change” to air traffic control to alleviate problems with inconsistent funding and aging technology.
The three were on hand at the White House for the June 5 announcement and decided then to write a letter together to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the proposal, Grizzle told Bloomberg BNA.
Though the FAA is in the process of implementing NextGen technology throughout the air traffic system, Grizzle said he and his predecessors each experienced the frustration of “slipping” timelines for full implementation. The current estimate for NextGen delivery is 2020, but Grizzle said he expects that to fall to 2030 or later.
“The three of us believe that [the White House proposal] really does set the foundation for addressing the problems that we all have suffered under,” Grizzle told Bloomberg BNA.
A non-governmental entity would be able to bring more consistent funding, hire “world class” integrators to connect the new systems that have been installed to date, and allow for incremental technological updates that federal procurement processes make difficult, Grizzle said.
During hearings in the House and Senate the week of June 5, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao faced considerable skepticism and uncertainty from both Republicans and Democrats.
“Folks back home need a comfort level about what this might result in,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Chao.
Wicker said the administration needs to do a better job of selling the proposal.
Two House Democrats, T&I ranking member Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and aviation subcommittee ranking member Rick Larsen (Wash.), have offered legislation to provide a dedicated funding source for air traffic control that wouldn’t be subject to annual appropriations. Their bill aims to undercut the privatization proposal, as the uncertainty in appropriations is a chief issue raised by backers of the Trump-Shuster plan.
Grizzle, however, said that while the funding aspect of DeFazio’s proposal would be helpful, it wouldn’t fix procurement issues.
DeFazio dismissed the letter June 13.
“All three of the former FAA officials on this letter have been executives for or employed by major U.S. airlines—it’s no surprise that they would support proposals to hand over the public airspace and assets to the airlines and their allies. This letter does nothing to answer the serious questions raised by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate about air traffic control privatization,” DeFazio said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA.
The air traffic control proposal is being floated as part of the FAA reauthorization; current funding expires Sept. 30. Both the Senate and House are working on new authorizations, though Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has consistently said overhauling air traffic control won’t be part of the Senate version.
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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
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