ATC Privatization Battle Looms

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It's not often that an aviation issue is front and center in a political tug of war between the White House and Congress but that's what's shaping up in September with the FAA Reauthorization Bill. The administration has threatened to veto the bill if the final version contains language that would outlaw the privatization of air traffic controllers and possibly flight services and technical personal in the system. But Wally Pike, the president of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists, which represents FSS employees, said he believes the White House will fold under political and public pressure and withdraw the veto threat. "We know we have bipartisan support and we don't think [the privatization section of the bill] is likely to be changed," said Pike. "We just don't feel like a veto is likely." Last week, the House and Senate passed their versions of the bill. Under pressure from the White House veto threat, the House eliminated protection for FSS and technical staff while the Senate bill, thanks to an amendment by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), maintained government staffing for ATC, FSS and technical staff. Pike said it's important to note that the Lautenberg amendment passed (56-41) in defiance of the veto threat despite the Republican majority in the Senate. "Eleven Republican senators voted for the bill," he said. Pike said amendment supporters told him they believe they hold the two-thirds majority support in both houses necessary to override any veto attempt. There are other discrepancies between the two bills and a committee of members from both houses will meet, likely in September, according to Pike, to find common ground on them. Pike noted that the current FAA authorization runs out at the end of September and if the president mounts a successful veto, the whole process of drafts, subcommittee and committee hearings would have to begin again.