True to the full committee’s Chairman Shuster’s promise, the Aviation Subcommittee, under the leadership of Chairman LoBiondo, issued a notice that a hearing on “Issues Regarding Modernizing and Operating the Nation’s Airspace System” will be held on February 25. They are moving hard on the Reauthorization Act of 2015. The staff prepared a background memorandum, which as usual is excellent, and that document tracks the history of the modernization from 1981 (yes, 34 years ago) to the present. The stops and starts, successes and failures and twists and turns are detailed.
The point of the hearing is the future. The witnesses’ position may predictable. Contemporaneously, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) issued a very useful statement of its positions on the bill and that document may advance the debate significantly.
The hearing’s witness list includes the following:
· Matthew Hampton-Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, Office of Inspector General, Department of Transportation;
· Sharon Pinkerton-Senior Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Policy, Airlines for America;
· Mark Baker-President and CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association;
· Chris Benich-Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Honeywell;
· Trish Gilbert-Executive Vice President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association; and
· Robert Poole-Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy Reason Foundation.
These are well respected advocates on the need to improve the ATC system and the appropriate methods to achieve a real, long term NextGen. Unless there is some drastic deviation from past public statements, their testimony is predictable:
· The GAO will find fault with the FAA’s management;
· A4A will exclaim that change is needed (privatization in some form?), but there should be no more taxes (actually roll back the current “fees”);
· AOPA will be opposed to privatization (the fuel tax will suffice) and ADS-B cannot be cost-justified for GA fliers;
· Honeywell, a new member of this panel, will likely extoll the benefits of NextGen;
· NATCA will draw a line in the sand against any form of privatization and
· Mr. Poole, the high oracle of privatization, will document the successes of ANSPs operating as private entities.
Hopefully, the predictable prognosis will be wrong and someone will offer a truly transformational new option.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2015 (likely to be labeled with some clever acronym) MUST involve some compromise. Maybe one party will modify its stance on user fees for greater governance power, for example. The T&I hearing is a useful predicate to reaching some consensus by placing key players’ position on ATC Modernization on the record.