Transportation & Infrastructure—questions from Congress about FAA; Industry must respond with a single, comprehensive Proposal, soon

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The title of TODAY’s hearing signified that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is ready to discuss what can/must be done to “fix” the FAA. The witness list includes the “Who’s Who” of experts on this subject; they elegantly presented their previously expressed analyses with better documentation. The telling detailed questions posed by the Representatives did not draw definitive answers. The answers left a lot unanswered.

[Oh, by the way, contrary to many of the UAS chat rooms, this hearing had nothing to do with drones. The FAA did, however, issue today its new, improved process by issuing a blanket Certificate of Authorization.]

The panel

Mr. Matt Hampton, Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation
Mr. Douglas Parker, Chairman and CEO, American Airlines Group, Inc.; on behalf of Airlines for America
Mr. Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy, Reason Foundation
Mr. Paul Rinaldi, President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association
Mr. David Grizzle
Ms. Dorothy Robyn
Mr. Craig Fuller, Vice Chairman, FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC)

was heavy on well know thought leaders (including the IG), but light on users. Mr. Parker was there on behalf of A4A; Mr. Fuller is a member of the MAC (and used to be at AOPA) and Mr. Rinaldi represents the thousands of professionals within the ATC. Their collective testimony displayed incredible knowledgeable about Privatization, Corporatization, Public/Private Partnerships, User Cooperatives, Federally Chartered Corporations, etc.

They cited studies which showed how well Air Navigation Service Providers, removed from the government, are doing. All concurred that governance and a reliable flow of funding are problems. The research and policy arguments were impressive and overwhelming. The Committee has posted all of the witness statements; so you can peruse their well-articulated proposals. That same link will allow one to listen to the entire hearing, especially the questions and answers.

Against that conceptual context, the Congresspersons made more detailed inquiries, particularly Representatives Larsen and DeFazio (watch on the video on the T&I site). More of a statement than a question, Ranking Minority Member Larsen stated that with a six month timeline between now and the FAA Reauthorization deadline, the industry must have a consensus on the legislative solution. Then the Washington Democrat asked for the specifics of any plan, such as:

· Bargaining protection of the former FAA employees will/will not exist in the new entity?

· Do the privatized employees retain their federal pensions?

· What liability protections will the private entity have? The DoJ “judgment” fund will not be available, right?

· What will be in the new private entity”

o Just the ATO function?

o The aircraft certification process for which there has been so much criticism from the stakeholders?

o How will the functions which stay in the federal government with the private organization?

o Will small towers be closed due to economics or will they be protected?

· He submitted another 60 or so more questions for the record.

Rep. DeFazio maintained an open mind, but expressed specifics which must be decided. Some of his queries included:

· In recognition that the problem is Congress, how does the new organization get protected from the bizarre budgetary actions of this “elected Board of Directors”?

o He led a couple of witness through a couple of budget calculations: historic appropriations vs. available tax revenues (or their surrogates under a non-governmental structure)?

· Congress has previously “reformed” the FAA’s personnel functions and procurement processes, yet the “bureaucracy” prevails; what needs to be fixed?

· The FAA must, but so far has not, consolidate its ATC facilities BECAUSE Congress interferes; will BRAC work?

· The government corporation is offered as a viable alternative; why is the Postal Service so bad

· Nav Canada is universally hailed as a success, but the transfer price was grossly undervalued; how can the FAA’s assets be fairly valued?

· Certification should be in or out of the US government?

o How would privatization of such a “safety” function work?

o A recent court decision has clouded the test of what is an essentially governmental function; what is the right legal answer?

o How would airport development be funded under privatization?

§ A4A wants PFCs to not be raised, if not reduced/eliminated?

§ Can midsized airports be supported by such a local taxes?

Some of the witnesses postulated reasonable responses to these and other questions from the Committee Members. For example, Dr. Robyn laughed at the notion that certification can be “privatized” (without citing the case), BUT Mr. Fuller explained that separating all of the regulatory functions from the operational responsibilities may be dysfunctional.

That contretemps was one of many disagreements among the panelists; A4A v. NATCA on the rights/benefits of the “privatized” employees is as direct a confrontation as was expressed during the hearing. There were no airport representatives at the table; so the battle over infrastructure funding was not fully explored. The general and business aviation associations were watching; they might have had umbrage with the statement that A4A and other commercial carriers provide 94% of the tax revenues in juxtaposition to the governance discussion.

The Ranking Minority Member’s comment, that Reauthorization will likely not be enacted by September, without a much higher consensus by the aviation industry should be the #1 Lesson of the hearing. By that he did not mean that all agree that “funding and governance” are the problems, but a complete, thorough package with specific language which answers definitively all 73 of his questions as well as Rep. DeFazio’s. Industry must work to develop such a comprehensive solution, soon.

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