Senate votes for air traffic control to remain with FAA, rejects privatization plan

When President Trump announced a plan to create a new non-governmental entity to handle the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration, a chorus of objections arose from aviation organizations around the country. The Trump proposal was seen as a threat to business aviation, non-commercial pilots and rural communities, and a transfer of power to airline interests.

The United States Senate, soon after the privatization plan was announced, passed a bi-partisan funding bill to continue the FAA’s role in managing the nation’s airspace, rejecting for now the concept of shifting air traffic control to a non-profit corporation.

Mark Pierce, who leads his firm’s aviation law team and chairs the Aviation Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, is monitoring congressional activities regarding funding of air traffic control and will continue to report to aviation lawyers on this issue, which is critical to aviation safety.

UPDATE: On June 27, 2017, the Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted to send to the full House of Representatives a vastly different bill from the one passed by the Senate. HR 2997, which has drawn objection from general aviation and pilot organizations, follows the administration’s wish to privatize many air traffic control functions. Heavy lobbying has already begun in the House.

Many in the general aviation community are surprised and upset that Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) has “flip-flopped.” Graves has been considered a long-time friend of general aviation and is chair of the General Aviation caucus in the House, so his support for the committee’s privatization vote is seen by some as a betrayal of his pilot friends.

If the House passes HR 2997, the bill and the markedly different one passed by the Senate will presumably go to a conference committee. Which side will prevail in this showdown remains unclear.

Mark Pierce continues to monitor this potential paradigm-shift in the funding and operation of the air traffic control system in the United States.

—by Mark Pierce © 2017

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