House And Senate Set To Battle Over ATC Privatization

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The House bill to reauthorize the FAA for the 2018 fiscal year—starting Oct. 1—includes ATC privatization, as most general aviation groups had feared. AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NATA, Helicopter Association International and NBAA released a joint statement opposing the bill: “After a thorough and detailed review of Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) proposal to remove our nation’s air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration, we have concluded that these reforms, while well intentioned, will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.” Privatized ATC service would be funded by user fees under the proposal, which is the primary appeal for some supporters. Much of the FAA’s budget is currently supported by fuel taxes, which are mostly paid by operators of large jets. Replacing a fuel tax with a cost per operation—such as a fixed fee per instrument approach—would represent a tremendous tax cut for the airlines and tax increase for operators of smaller aircraft.

The Senate meanwhile seems unlikely to include ATC privatization in its companion bill. Senator Thune, R-S.D., Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said his committee’s bill would not include a provision to get the government out of air traffic management. “No, we don’t have the votes to pass that in our committee at the moment,” said Thune earlier this week. If the House passes the bill as offered and the Senate passed an FAA reauthorization bill without ATC privatization, the differences between the bills will have to be worked out during the reconciliation process or the FAA will face another funding shutdown this fall.

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