FAA Bill In Political Gridlock

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VFR Tower Privatization Stalls Congress...

While the administration tries to turn up the heat, the FAA Reauthorization Bill remains stuck on the back burner over a single clause that has split traditional allies in aviation and in politics. It's been a long time since lobbyists and political tacticians have burned the midnight oil over an aviation matter but that's what's happening in Washington as the dispute over privatizing 69 so-called VFR towers grows into a full-blown legislative crisis. The current FAA funding bill expires Sept. 30 and the pressure is on to get it passed before then. "We should not be in this position," said Doug Church, spokesman for the embattled National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "They (the Bush administration) created this mess." NATCA has lined up some impressive political support to keep those towers in the government fold but has received tepid backing, at best, from aviation groups. The clause in question was a compromise reached in the Senate/House committee reconciliation of the bill in July. Both bodies had originally voted to not allow any further privatization of ATC functions. However, a veto threat from the administration prompted the clause allowing expansion of the Contract Tower Program, in which private firms run FAA-funded towers. Since then, NATCA has been fighting furiously to maintain the towers as government-run, union-staffed operations and it has apparently gathered enough political support from within the Republican majority of both houses to stop the bill dead in its tracks. Church insists the blame for the stalemate belongs with the White House for refusing to accept Congress's original position.