FAA Reauthorization Comes To Pass

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Privatization Looms, All Sides Claim Victory...

In the rest of the world, there are winners and losers, but in the magical spin machine that is Washington, D.C., somehow there are only winners ... if you believe the talking heads. A blizzard of self-congratulatory words are flowing from combatants on all sides of the privatization controversy that had held up passage of the FAA Reauthorization Bill -- the money (for GA), jobs and programs it represents -- until late Friday. The Senate, by unanimous consent, suddenly passed the bill after months of political trench warfare, when FAA Administrator Marion Blakey extended a slim and short-lived olive branch. Blakey agreed, in writing, to a one-year moratorium on expansion of the contract tower program or any other privatization move. Apparently that was enough for the bitter foes engaged in dispute to all claim victory. The saga began last June when both the House and Senate passed versions of the bill that prevented further privatization of ATC for the full four-year term of the reauthorization bill. But the White House successfully pressured a conference committee preparing the final version of the bill to scrap the privatization ban and allow up to 69 control towers to be privatized, while the rest of the system remained untouchably government-run. Enough Republican representatives and senators opposed the privatization option that the Democrat-led opposition to the bill was able to stall it for almost two months. With hundreds of airport improvement projects stalled and other aviation-friendly measures on hold, pressure mounted on Congress to pass the legislation and the letter from Blakey offered the face-saving compromise needed to break the logjam.