Possible AIRR Amendments
Could they kill the bill?
Chairman Shuster’s statement:
“The bill clearly separates air traffic control service from the government. The new corporation will not receive any federal appropriations or backing of the federal government. To make this point crystal clear, we expect to adopt an amendment that will be even more explicit in prohibiting federal appropriations,” the Pennsylvania Republican said on the House floor Tuesday. “Furthermore, the federal government – Congress, [the Transportation Department] and FAA – will have oversight of air traffic control – just like every other aspect of our aviation system, including airlines and manufacturers.”
Chairman Shuster has been working hard to develop a transformational FAA Reauthorization bill since the moment that he succeeded Chairman Mica on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. He has carefully developed a strategy to assure that 21st AIRR passes. including the time-honored Christmas Tree legislative technique.
In spite of all that effort, he remains frustrated with the shortfall of votes in the House and the total opposition in the Senate. So what cards does this master of House politics (in fact a second generation of floor tactics) do?
1. In his floor speech, he listed a number of changes that he added to placate GA. (1st link above)
2. In the same speech, he stated
“Finally, I want to cover the question about federal appropriations and oversight.
The bill clearly separates air traffic control service from the government.
The new corporation will not receive any federal appropriations or backing of the federal government.
To make this point crystal clear, we expect to adopt an amendment that will be even more explicit in prohibiting federal appropriations.
Furthermore, the federal government – Congress, DOT, and FAA – will have oversight of air traffic control – just like every other aspect of our aviation system, including airlines and manufacturers.
Only DOT and FAA will regulate the nation’s airspace and the aircraft that fly through it.”
→ Some thoughts about what these words may signal or not mean.
a. Congress’ primary oversight of the FAA has been the Annual Appropriations bill. Without it the agency has no $$$.
i. Frequently, language is included under the legislative euphemism that “no dollars appropriated here may be spent” [variations thereof].
ii. Because it is a must pass bill, Members use this leverage to include their favorite requirements/restrictions.
iii. The oversight which the Chairman mentions will be diminished or diluted UNLESS there is a hidden amendment restoring some annual leverage. Chairman Shuster is aware of such concerns among the Members and surely has something in draft to gain the reluctant Members to support 21st AIRR.
b. One of the strong points of the 21st AIRR is the creation of a Board of Directors. Ironically, for the past almost 80 years, the FAA has had the Hill as its Board. As Chairmen succeeded their predecessor and as the composition of the Committees changed, the strategic guidance from these elected bodies varied—everything from substantial changes in funding to major alteration of policy objectives; so, a new Board will be a major plus. Goals of consistency of direction and leadership, expert advice to the corporation and diverse perspectives from the august Board will be a substantial plus.
i. Board Members of normal corporations receive as a predicate to their assumption of the fiduciary duties O&D liability insurance. Without the Full Faith and Credit of the US Government behind this corporation and with the massive liabilities which operating the ATC system, the cost of the O&D insurance will be substantial.
ii. That assumes that the insurance pool will even write such a policy. This is not just a theoretical problem. When the FAA issued its first RFP for its ATC automation, circa 1983, one of the bidders (IBM) went to Congress to apply the Full Faith & Credit behind the contract.
iii. It is fair to assume that Chairman Shuster has considered such a concern and has an amendment to create such protection. Any link back to the US Treasury creates a link to controlling the federal government.
c. The Board’s composition will need a special set of talent. Finance, technology acquisition, state-of-the-art computer hardware/software developments (even more importantly what is the next generation to be bought for NextGen),the highly specialized operation of the ATC, risk-based and safety, labor, human talent recruitment, environment, consolidation of facilities, basic management, change of culture, consensus development, strategic planning, sophisticated cost accounting & economics (needed to set user fees) and dealing with Congress will have to be part of their collective skills.
i. Given the number of user group nominations, it will be difficult to cover many of these skills.
ii. Board guidance on the ATC NextGen development will be their most important input to the corporation. Except for the companies involved already in NextGen (their Board participation is precluded), it will be very difficult to find such expertise.
iii. The Chairman may have to submit an amendment weakening the “ethics” restriction.
d. People close to the debate have been told that the greatest Achilles Tendon to 21st AIRR, the unions’ ability to strike the corporation, will be cured in some 2am amendment. The timing would have to be so late in the process that the organized labor groups could not pull the plug.
i. The current FAA statute does not permit strikes.
ii. To protect the union, Congress has created a review process of a contract which the Administrator proposes and the Unions do not agree.
iii. The yet-to-be seen amendment, one can presume, will include such a union protection.
These are merely educated guesses with no inside information. The Chairman, A4A, the Reason Foundation and other supporters have spent years anticipating possible objections and devising brilliant replies to the identified issues.
Stayed tuned—24/7 for the next weeks and months.
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