Air Traffic Control Reform
Separation of ATC from the FAA
President Donald Trump delivers a speech on ATC Reform. In the background are Vice President Pence, former Secretaries of Transportation Mary E. Peters (2006-2009), James H. Burnley IV (1987-1989) and Elizabeth Hanford Dole (1983-1987).
Surrounded by Congressional Leaders and the Secretaries, the President signed the legislative principles.
President Donald J. Trump is launching infrastructure week today with the signing of legislative principles calling for the separation of Air Traffic Control from the FAA. This action will improve safety, modernize flight technology, and encourage new technologies in aviation. President Trump has dedicated this week to addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure.
The President’s talk, about 10 minutes long, was full of auspicious yet ambiguous promises of benefits from the “Reform” bill that will be forthcoming. “Principles for Modernizing the U.S. Air Traffic Control System” were signed at the following ceremony and were evidently distributed to the press (Wall Street Journal, AinOnline, Washington Post and others), but were not available from the White House, Chairman Shuster’s office nor the Aviation Subcommittee Office.
NBAA, NATA and AOPA opposed this iteration purely based on user fees and the governance by a Board, in lieu of Congress.
A past supporter of the Shuster proposal was not as clear on this new version. “NATCA shares the Administration’s commitments to infrastructure modernization and providing the National Airspace System (NAS) with a stable, predictable funding stream,” said NATCA president Paul Rinaldi. “We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the air traffic control (ATC) reform legislation so we can evaluate whether it satisfies our union’s principles, including protecting the rights and benefits of the ATC workforce.”
Curiously, one of the more puzzling statements was made by the President, whose remarks included this quote:
And we’re bidding, ideally, to one great company — there will be many bids, but one great company that can piece it all together — not many companies all over the United States, like in the past. When they came time to piece it together, it didn’t work.
“Bidding” intimates that private companies will participate in a competition to buy the FAA. Indeed, the auction price would be a huge payment to the federal treasury. The remarks of Secretary Chao, Chairman Shuster and National Economic Council Gary Cohn stayed closer to the script of the transfer of FAA assets, without charge, to a federal not-for-profit corporation.
One reporter mentioned some differences between the Principles and the 2016 AIRR (HR 4144). In the prior version, there was no mention of the applicability of NEPA to the federal corporation. The analysis of the released (to some) document was as follows: “The FAA would could make safety reviews of route changes, but the principles add, such changes ‘would only be subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review if the change exceeds the FAA-established noise threshold.’” Details matter and one can only posit questions which may assess the real meaning:
- the FAA is in the midst of many changes of the ATC routings due to NextGen. Q: at the date of transition to the new federal corporation are all of the “routes” in place grandfathered?
- Assuming that an old route receives greater traffic is that a change?
- Route changes would rarely increase safety risks; rather changes in operational rules, like separation between aircraft or the change in equipment on board an aircraft with the ATC, are more susceptible to safety questioning.
This is the beginning of a legislative marathon and hopefully the Administration version will be released with adequate time for review. The labor protection, employee transfer rights (conversely, the authority of the new corporation to NOT take incumbents), acquisition process, rate-making (i.e. how you calculate user fees), procedural requirements for issuing new AT standards, the parameters for the financing of the ATC equipment (interest rates for instruments backed by the “full faith and credit”) and the all important GOVERNANCE sections (number of Board members, percentage of segment group representation, requirement of more than a majority, quorum, transparency, etc.) will be thoroughly debated.
STAY TUNED. You thought that House of Cards was dramatic!!!