Aviation Bill Faces Veto

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Semantics: President Opposes ATC Privatization Ban...

Well, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey may have no intention of privatizing air traffic control but she might want to check with the man who appointed her to the job. The Bush White House has put Congress on notice that an FAA Reauthorization bill passed by the House and the Senate last week will likely be vetoed by the president unless language prohibiting ATC privatization is scrapped. "If the final legislation includes provisions that would inappropriately prohibit the conversion of FAA facilities or functions from the federal government to the private sector, the President's senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill," said a White House statement. All commercial airports have FAA towers but many smaller fields have private contractors handling aircraft. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told the Associated Press the government wants flexibility in administering those "contract towers." But to some, the word games appear to contradict public statements and a memo from Blakey to staff earlier this year assuring that ATC will not be privatized. AOPA President Phil Boyer said the veto threat shows the Bush administration's agenda is to privatize ATC, something he said the membership is dead set against. "Privatized air traffic control and the user fees that go with it is one of the three biggest concerns among our 400,000 members," he said in a statement. (Although, historically, AOPA has been open to privatization of Flight Service, the same does not appear true for ATC.) Boyer is also concerned about airlines gaining control of ATC through the privatization process although he didn't specify just what worries him about that. Both Senate and House versions of the ATC provision were watered down just before the vote. Initial drafts included technical staff and flight service staff. The Senate's amended version eliminated protection for the techs and FSS employees while the House bill kept the technical workers as government employees.

...Good Things Hang In Balance

The ATC provision was a single paragraph in sweeping legislation that, for the most part, have the alphabet groups cheering and taking credit for the good things they contain. In fact, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) ignored the ATC issue and accentuated the positive. As AVweb told you a few weeks ago, when the wording was first proposed, there is relief for GA businesses hardest hit by 9/11 and the war in Iraq, more flexibility for charter operations, an appeals process for certificate suspension by the TSA, the recommendation that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport be reopened to GA and a host of other provisions that are generally seen as positive developments for GA. NATA President James Coyne lauded legislators and staff "who have made this landmark legislation a reality." Of course, the White House has made it clear that it's not yet a reality. The House and Senate each passed their own version of the bill. Although they are parallel bills, there are some differences, including the term of the legislation and its relative cost. The Senate approved four years worth $58.9 billion while the House went for three years and $43.5 billion. Now, a committee of both arms of government must go through each version and hash out the differences, coming up with a single document that reflects the wishes of the whole Congress. Then it goes to the president for final ratification, which the White House has said may not be forthcoming.