Senate Committees Spar Over FAA Privatization


The Senate Appropriations Committee is strongly opposing a proposal to split the FAA’s air traffic organization (ATO) from the agency. In a pointed letter (PDF) to the leaders of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the appropriations arm says it’s fundamentally opposed to the plan on a number of fronts. “We are writing to express our opposition to legislation that would separate the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from the rest of the agency and remove that function from the congressional appropriations process,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, the Appropriations Committee chairman in the missive to Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking member and chief cheerleader for the bid to privatize the ATO. Cochran said the proposal, which is expected as part of legislation to reauthorize funding for the FAA (the current funding runs out at the end of March) has two basic flaws in that it will “break apart the FAA” and “diminish the ability of Congress to oversee the aviation system.”

But proponents of privatization see maintaining the status quo as an impediment to the ATO getting on with modernizing and streamlining the system to meet increasing demand. The privatization bid is being championed by the airlines and some see it as a bid by the airlines to take over control of the air traffic system to the detriment of GA and business aircraft users. Of particular concern to the opposing groups is the likely use of user fees to fund the system and they have been vocal in denouncing that plan. The Appropriations Committee touches on those concerns in its letter, saying congressional oversight “ensures that the FAA maintains a system that works across the aviation industry, including general aviation and small and rural communities as well as commercial airlines and large metropolitan cities.” The committee also seems to reject the privatization forces’ assertion that the FAA is broken and incapable of managing the modernization projects now under its control. It calls the U.S. a “world leader in aviation” and gives much of the credit to the FAA. “It does not make sense to break apart the FAA, an essential part of our success in aviation.”