Legislative Activity

AIRR Act’s ATC Reform Faces Diverse Opposition

The Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill, faces diverse opposition to its air traffic control (ATC) reform provisions.

The AIRR Act would remove ATC from the federal government and transfer operation of air traffic services to a federally-chartered, not-for-profit corporation called the “ATC Corporation,” transferring operational control over all air traffic services from FAA to the ATC Corporation on October 1, 2019. The board of directors of the ATC Corporation would be comprised of a Chief Executive Officer, two directors appointed by the Secretary of Transportation, four directors representing commercial air carriers, two directors from organizations representing the general aviation community, one director representing the air traffic controllers union, and one director representing the airline pilots union. The ATC Corporation would have the authority to charge user fees to users of the National Airspace System (NAS), though much of the general aviation community would be exempt from the fees.

The AIRR Act’s proposed ATC Corporation is a significant change from the current ATC system, and the proposal has substantial bipartisan opposition in Congress and the stakeholder community. House and Senate Appropriators oppose the proposal because it would reduce their oversight authority, as do some members of the House Ways and Means Committee because it would remove their role in setting aviation taxes and fees. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), other Committee Democrats, and various stakeholder organizations also oppose the proposal. The proposal does enjoy the support of the major commercial airlines, except for Delta, and the influential National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the union representing air traffic controllers.

Chairman Shuster will hold a hearing to review ATC Reform proposals this Wednesday, February 10. Originally Chairman Shuster wanted to mark up the AIRR Act on Thursday, February 11, but a markup is not currently listed on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing schedule. Most of the bill was negotiated between Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio in advance, but ATC reform remains the key sticking point. Ranking Member DeFazio is expected to offer “targeted reforms” to the AIRR Act, which would likely retain the existing aviation tax structure but transition to mandatory spending, insulating ATC from Congressional funding disruptions. It is unclear whether Ranking Member DeFazio’s amendments will satisfy the concerns of Democrats, Appropriators, members of the Ways and Means Committee, and other stakeholders.

While Chairman Shuster and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) have said they want to pass FAA Reauthorization before the current extension expires on March 31, Congress may need to pass another short-term extension to allow time to work out differences between the House and Senate reauthorization bills. Ranking Member DeFazio has said he does not think the Senate will be able to act on FAA reauthorization before the March 31 expiration. The last multi-year FAA reauthorization required 23 short-term extensions before it was passed in 2012.

This Week’s Hearings:      

  • Wednesday, February 10: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on “Review of Air Traffic Control Reform Proposals.”
  • Thursday, February 11: The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a markup of H.R._____, the “FAA Leadership in Groundbreaking High-Tech Research and Development Act” (FLIGHT R&D Act).