The House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee approved legislation Thursday that would transfer
authority over U.S. air traffic control (ATC) from the FAA to a nonprofit
The bill, which passed 32-26 along
partisan lines, will next go before the full House of Representatives.
For it to become law, the Senate would
also have to approve the privatization measure, which is part of a
comprehensive six-year FAA reauthorization bill called the AIRR Act. The FAA is
currently operating under short-term funding legislation that expires March 31.
“The AIRR Act provides the
transformational reform necessary to bring our antiquated air traffic system
into the modern era, and allow America to lead the world again in aviation,”
transportation committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in a prepared
statement after the vote.
The nonprofit corporation is modeled
after Canada's ATC authority, Nav Canada. It would be charged with speeding the U.S.’s transition from
radar-based technology to the GPS-based NextGen system. It would be overseen by
a board comprised of two appointees of the federal government, two
representatives of mainline airlines, two general aviation representatives, one
ATC union representative and one representative of airline pilots.
The airline trade group
Airlines for America has been its chief backer. But the bill also won the
support of the air traffic controllers’ union on Wednesday. Opponents include
Delta Air Lines, consumer groups, and the Regional Airline Association, which
hasn’t been allocated any representation on the proposed non-profit’s board.
Supporters of privatization argue
that it would speed technological upgrades and while removing ATC from the
uncertainty of the highly politicized appropriations process in Congress.
Opponents say that the process of reorganizing how the ATC is administered
would delay the implementation of NexGen while reducing accountability to the
During the course of Thursday’s
debate, the transportation committee considered about 75 amendments to
the bill and approved more than half of them. Among those that got through, said
the Travel Technology Association, was a proposal by Rep. Carlos Curbelo
(D-Fla.) to do away with the federal full-fare advertising rule
implemented by the Department of Transportation in 2012.
The rule requires anyone selling
airline tickets to post the total price in print and online advertising,
inclusive of taxes and fees. The AIRR Act, now inclusive of the Curbelo
amendment, would allow airlines, travel agents and vacation packagers to post base
fares on websites and in advertisements, so long as other costs are separately
disclosed. The Travel Technology Association, ASTA and Business Travel
Coalition all oppose the Curbelo amendment.
Defeated during the debate
Thursday, according to USA Today, was an amendment proposed by transportation
committee member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) that would have directed the FAA to set
seat-size minimums on commercial airliners.
The AIRR Act faces a battle before
the full House. Both parties’ senior members of the House Appropriations
Committee have come out against it, saying privatization would result in less
oversight and accountability.