Clearly, Chairman Shuster and Reason Foundation’s Director of Transportation Policy see eye to eye on ATC Reform witness the recent proposal spawned by Mr. Poole and included in the Chairman’s manager amendment.
The Apostle of Privatization, Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy, Reason Foundation, has articulated reasonable arguments for removing the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) in 153 Air Traffic Control Newsletters (ATCN) since 2001. Assigning the aphorism “Dogged Determination” to this think tank guru replaces the Bumptious Beaver for the bulldog which is the etymological source double D term.
ATCN #152 started with a “Post-Mortem on 2017 US ATC Corporation Effort” and it laid blame on the withdrawal of HR 2977 on a weakening of President Trump’s support and the Big Lie campaign. In his next article, “What Next for U.S. Air Traffic Control?”, Mr. Poole outlined the next iteration in his vision, which was spelled out in detail in ATCN #153, which stated, in part:
“…With this as background, here are some specifics about what should be included and excluded in separating the ATO from FAA. Clearly, as a new modal agency the New ATO would need to have control of its own personnel system, including recruitment and training. It should also have its own legal and administrative functions. It should not include either the FAA Tech Center in Atlantic City or the Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. The New ATO would be able to contract with those entities for any services it needed (and a revamped approach to controller training might reduce or eventually eliminate the current training at the Academy in Oklahoma City, as has been recommended by outside studies). Clearly, New ATO should regain full control of all of NextGen. A key premise of creating the ATO was to combine technology development/ procurement with ATC operations, rather than these being separate domains, as had been FAA practice. Years ago, Congress enacted FAA procurement reforms, which have never really been used to rethink and streamline how the FAA/ATO develop and procure new systems. That procurement freedom should be passed along intact to New ATO. But would New ATO actually reform development and procurement? That is unlikely unless New ATO is also freed from civil service constraints. Making that admittedly large change would have large benefits. First, it would permit the organization to recruit and compensate highly qualified engineering, software, and program management people-and hold them accountable for results. Second, it would permit termination of people whom some refer to as “on-the-job retirees,” whose de-facto interest is in a large, complex bureaucratic system. This reform will likely be opposed by the FAA Managers Association, but would likely be supported by controllers’ union NATCA, which has been on board with the non-civil-service status of the planned ATC Corporation-and NATCA’s membership vastly outstrips FAAMA’s. Finally, New ATO should be run by a Chief Executive Officer, not a Chief Operating Officer. The CEO would be accountable to the Secretary of Transportation and would be advised by a New ATO Advisory Board, separate from the current FAA Management Advisory Council. Its headquarters should be entirely separate from the current FAA building in Washington. (Several people have suggested locating it adjacent to the Command Center in Warrenton, VA.) And of course, the revamped entity would require its own website and email addresses. How about NewATO.org?”
ATCN #153 was published on April 23 (probably written before that date) and on the same date Chairman Shuster added an amendment. This new provision, not mentioned in any hearings nor subject to any public comment, proposed to move ATO from reporting to the FAA Administrator to becoming another “Modal Administration” under the Secretary of Transportation.
Currently, the air traffic organization is two levels removed from the Cabinet Member, increasing somewhat the degree to which the control of the airspace is insulated from political influence (yes, AOA-1 is a Presidential appointment and subject to Senate confirmation, but the statutory prerequisites for the job assure some level of technical competence.)
Most aggravating to the Poole anointed Big Liars Club, the amendment also called for the establishment of a 13-seat “advisory” board, the composition of which looked remarkedly like HR 2977.
- Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA, called the measure a “thinly disguised attempt to give control of the system to the big airlines.”
- In its call to action to members, NATA said the amendment represents the first step in the direction of privatization, impeding “the achievement of our collective goals of supporting modernization and FAA reform, and advancing the safety of the National Airspace System.”
- GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce, meanwhile, called the measure “a real threat.”
- “Once our members weighed in to express their opposition to the amendment, we had a constructive dialogue and we are grateful that chairman Shuster withdrew the most troubling language,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior v-p of government affairs. “We hope now H.R. 4 can move forward. All of aviation will benefit from a long-term funding bill.”
⇒In response to calls by AOPA and other general aviation associations for action, pilots flooded the switchboard at the U.S. House of Representatives, urging their members of Congress to oppose Section 5 of Shuster’s “manager’s amendment”.
⇒ After an outpouring of opposition from general aviation groups, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) revised a measure that would have created an Aerospace Management Advisory Council to steer the air traffic control system within the FAA. Shuster instead agreed to significantly revise the language, leaving a measure that would create a chief technology officer position to work with the COO on ATC management.
The committee chairman had called the advisory council a “modest reform” and stressed, “This is not a privatization bill…nothing is being taken out of the FAA.” But he said the advisory council was dropped after “we heard from folks in the community.”
Sadly, this well-intentioned effort will be cited by opponents of FAA reform for years. Privatization of ATO requires a thoughtful and comprehensive bill which starts with details for its foundation and builds into the conceptual. AIRR reflected a lot of macro political compromises and missed the granularity required to move ATO from its current structure to the private sector.
The bill might have more specific about:
- how NEPA process would apply to future ATO changes,
- what private management can do to adjust the existing workforce for NextGen job task analyses,
- a realistic insurance program to replace to the “full faith and credit” backing,
- defining Board Member positions, not by what industry they represent but by what specific expertise they bring—finance, HR, strategic planning, accounting, labor relations, actual knowledge of AT procedures, technology, etc.
- ANB the $1B question—a formula of how user costs should be calculated recognizing that hubs and peak scheduling impose disproportionate costs on ATO operations.
These are difficult, if not impossible, issues to be resolved, but without spelling out the precise answers to them and others, the underlying ATO, Inc. powers and policies would return to Congress and A SECONDARY REVIEW OF ATO IS THE LAST THING A PRIVATIZATION PROPOSAL SHOULD DO.
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