The chief congressional proponent of privatizing the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system is vowing to press forward with the effort even though the proposal was excluded from the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization bill passed last month.

The seeming intransigence of House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) concerning ATC privatization is further fueling concerns about whether the two chambers of Congress will be able to agree on FAA reauthorization before July 15, when the agency’s current temporary funding expires.

The Senate passed its version of FAA reauthorization in an overwhelming 95-3 vote on April 19. It is a broad but short-term bill that would fund the FAA only through September 2017.

Among its measures, the bill would:

• Enhance security within portions of airports that are outside TSA screening areas.

• Offer several consumer protections for airline passengers.

• Establish stricter registration requirements for drone operators while promoting commercial drone use.

• Set new FAA procedures for certifying aircraft designs and modifications.

Many of the Senate proposals are also addressed in Shuster’s House bill, which was passed by the transportation committee in February but stalled before reaching the House floor. Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania Republican has unambiguously said he will continue pushing his own version of the legislation.

“Transformational air traffic control reform is absolutely necessary to end the unacceptable status quo at the FAA and to ensure the future of America’s aviation system,” according to a statement Shuster released after the Senate passed its version of the FAA reauthorization.

With the House transportation committee chairman drawing such a clear line in the sand, some analysts predicted last week that reauthorization has little chance of being passed during this congressional session.

“They’ll probably kick the can down the road until after the election in November,” said Kenneth Button, a transportation economist and public policy professor at the George Mason School of Policy, Government and International Affairs.

Button said that he instead expects Congress to a pass another short-term extension of FAA funding, the third that it would have passed since late last September.

But Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, said that Shuster’s position could turn out to be less intractable than it appears. His proposal to shift management of ATC from the FAA to a nonprofit corporation overseen by a board of stakeholders faces strong opposition from Democrats. But it has also come under criticism from conservative budget hawks, who worry that the measure would leave taxpayers on the hook for major missteps by the nonprofit corporation. In addition, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee also oppose it.

The varied opposition has so far stalled the ATC privatization proposal. And continued opposition, coupled with the approaching July 15 deadline, could persuade Shuster to accept a compromise, Davis said, especially since the Senate reauthorization would last for less than 18 months, compared with the six years that his bill would encompass.

Underscoring Davis’ point, Shuster was expected to begin discussions late last week with John Thune (R-S.D.), the lead sponsor of the Senate’s FAA reauthorization. 

“I don’t think he goes down with the ship,” Davis said of Shuster and the ATC reform proposal. “I personally expect he’ll live to fight again next year.”

Political realities, too, could force action on FAA reauthorization before the July deadline. Despite his own pessimism about the prospect, Button said that the Senate’s near unanimous support of its bill put the House in a tough spot.

Meanwhile, Davis said he believes there is too much pent-up demand for commercial and private drones for reauthorization to be pushed aside entirely until the new Congress convenes in January. The demand, he said, creates a certain sense of urgency for implementing new drone regulations quickly and upgrading the FAA’s drone certification process.

The battle over privatizing air traffic control has been pitched. Supporters, including Shuster and the trade organization Airlines for America, argue that it would speed implementation of NextGen, the GPS-based technology that is replacing the radar-based system currently in use in the U.S. They also say it would remove ATC from the uncertainty of the highly politicized appropriations process in Congress.

Opponents, which include Delta Air Lines and consumer groups, argue that the process of reorganizing how the ATC is administered would delay the implementation of NextGen and increase costs.

Among the consumer protections in the Senate reauthorization bill is a measure requiring refunds for checked baggage that is delayed; another that would enforce a standard method for airlines to display ancillary fees on items such as baggage, seat assignments and ticket changes; and a third that would trigger automatic refunds for services purchased but not received, such as seat assignments.

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