The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Tuesday
approved a six-year FAA reauthorization bill that would privatize the U.S. air
traffic control (ATC) system.
Also, as part of the day's floor proceedings, the committee
passed amendments that would set minimum standards on aircraft seat
configurations and would uphold labor standards for European airlines entering
the U.S. market.
Plus, there's a provision to repeal the full-fare advertising rule implemented by the Department of
Transportation in 2012.
The 32-25 vote on the bill, which was championed by the
Republican majority, came largely along party lines and sets the stage for a
possible hearing on the House floor later this summer.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
will hold its own hearing on FAA reauthorization Thursday. But the Senate bill
doesn't include ATC privatization.
A privatization proposal championed last year by House
transportation committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) made it through the
committee but never got a vote on the House floor.
To maintain funding, Congress must reauthorize the FAA by
Sept. 30, or otherwise pass a short-term extension.
Under the terms of the House FAA bill, known as the 21st
Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, management
of ATC would be removed from the auspices of the FAA and taken over by a nonprofit
organization run by a 13-person board.
The board would include representatives from mainline,
regional and cargo airlines as well as the business aviation and general
aviation communities. Airports, commercial pilots, air traffic controllers and
the Department of Transportation (DOT) would also be represented.
Supporters of privatization say it will speed the replacement
of radar-based ATC technology with the satellite-based NextGen system. They
also say that it will set ATC aside from partisan Congressional funding
battles. Opponents say privatization could remove consumer protections and
serve as a disadvantage to the general aviation community while benefitting
The inclusion Tuesday of an amendment to the reauthorization
bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) was a victory for consumer
advocates. Under the amendment, the DOT would be required to set minimum seat
widths and distances between seating rows on commercial aircraft within one
year of the law's enactment. The measure comes as airlines are squeezing
additional seats into planes to maximize revenue.
Airline industry labor unions as well as airlines Delta,
United and American are among those that are sure to be pleased with the
inclusion of the amendment related to European airlines operating out of
so-called "flag of convenience" countries. The provision would forbid
the DOT from issuing foreign air carrier permits under the U.S.-EU open skies
agreement to an airline that would undermine labor standards contained in the
The amendment is a response to the approval late last year
of Norwegian Air's foreign air carrier permit for an Ireland-based subsidiary that
flies under the Norwegian Air livery. The airlines and labor groups accuse
Norwegian of locating in Ireland because labor laws there are more lax than
laws in Norway. Norwegian Air says the move facilitated fleet management.
A repeal of the full-fare advertising rule, a revocation that ASTA and consumer advocates vociferously oppose and airlines support, would mean that airlines, packagers and travel agents
could display base fares in print and online advertising, so long as taxes
and fees are separately disclosed. Right now, fare ads must display one
total price that includes taxes and fees.