President Donald Trump’s detailed look at a user-funded air traffic control system was unsurprisingly met with opposition from general and business aviation groups, along with leading Democrats. But it also drew cautions from groups such as the Aerospace Industries Association and failed to win full support from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Trump yesterday highlighted ATC reform as he kicked off a weeklong infrastructure push, immediately raising objections from numerous groups.
A coalition of 16 business and general aviation groups wrote the President yesterday reiterating their “real and long-standing concerns” about the push for new governance and funding model of the ATC system. “These concerns are based on our operating experiences in these foreign systems and the impact they have had on general aviation.”
Separately, a number of those groups reacted to the plan with strong opposition. NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen re-emphasized his belief that the proposal is borne out of an effort by major airlines to gain more control over the system. He called it a “sideshow to a serious and constructive discussion about building on the progress currently under way on NextGen.” Helicopter Association International president and CEO Matt Zuccaro agreed with Bolen’s assertions and asked, “What problem are they trying to solve?”
“We should not delay or prevent the system’s progress or the country’s growth for a risky transition to a new privatized entity for which only untested assertions about rewards or results can be made,” added General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pete Bunce. And National Air Transportation Association president and CEO Martin Hiller stressed, “Corporatizing air traffic control further limits the public’s ability to address issues of concern, removes transparency in ticket costs and undermines general aviation.”
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president and CEO Mark Baker, meanwhile, challenged Trump’s characterization of today's ATC as “an ancient, broken, horrible system that doesn't work,” saying, “The U.S. has a very safe air traffic system today and we don’t hear complaints from our nearly 350,000 members about it.”
Also predictably, yesterday’s events drew praise from the nation’s airlines. “The President’s leadership means that we can look forward to legislation that gets government out of the way so we can modernize for the future and maintain our global leadership in aviation. Today’s White House announcement puts consumers first, ahead of the status quo,” said Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas Calio.
But the event also drew cautions from the Aerospace Industries Association. AIA remained neutral about the concept of reform, but stated that any such effort should not include “business aviation and general aviation user fees for airspace access or cost increases, since they would disproportionately impact those aviation sectors.” While shielding general aviation from user fees has typically gained broad support, this was one of the few calls outside of the business and general aviation sector to exempt business aviation.
One of the most notable reactions from yesterday’s detailed look at a reform proposal came from the controllers' union, which had offered support to such a proposal when first unveiled last year. While the National Air Traffic Controllers Association still offered support for reform, it was more cautious about embracing the Trump proposal, saying it first needed to review the details to ensure it met its goals.
Whether this proposal gains traction on Capitol Hill remains to be seen. ATC reform is widely anticipated to be included in a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill in the House. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) was among the participant’s in Trump’s announcement yesterday. “I commend the President for his leadership in challenging the old way of thinking in Washington,” he said.
But such a proposal, which could be introduced and receive committee consideration this month, still faces opposition from House Democrats. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the T&I Committee, called the proposal “short sighted,” saying concerns about the reform effort have yet to be addressed.
In the Senate, Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) has remained neutral, but also cautioned once again yesterday that, “As we move forward in discussing potential reforms, getting a bill to President Trump's desk will require bipartisan support, as well as a consensus among the aviation community on a way forward.” His counterpart on the committee, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) has been one of the most vocal opponents of ATC restructuring.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to delve further into the proposal as she testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee tomorrow and the House T&I Committee on Thursday.