February 09, 2016

DeFazio, Larsen Question Republican Plan To Privatize Critical Air Traffic Control Operations

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) questioned a Republican plan that would completely dismantle the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and devolve Federal responsibility for the air traffic control system by handing it over to a private, not-for-profit board of industry interests and businesses.

“We have invested tens of billions of dollars in facilities and equipment to support the national airspace and these investments have been paid for by taxpayers as passengers on aircraft through the ticket taxes. Under the Republican proposal, these assets would be handed over to the private corporation for free, and consumers wouldn’t even be guaranteed a seat on the board. Not only would the private corporation get the assets for free, they would set the fees assessed on passengers to pay for the system. The Board would control routes, it could close air traffic facilities in rural or small communities, and it could be bailed out by the taxpayers if can’t pay to operate the system. This proposal will not solve the problems plaguing the FAA and I urge my colleagues to reject the proposal,” DeFazio said.

“I started this hearing with many concerns about the GOP proposal to privatize the national airspace, especially how it would affect national security. Red flags are only waving harder after the GOP expert on ATC privatization had few answers about DOD’s role, going so far as to say those issues are the ‘turf’ of the House Armed Services Committee. The takeaway is that even the majority’s ATC privatization expert has not thought through the national security implications and says the issue belongs to HASC. At the beginning of this hearing I said that DOD’s role in this privatization proposal remains undeveloped, uncertain and undermined. Nothing has changed, and we are still left with many more questions than answers. Running political science experiments on our national airspace, and by extension our national security, is not an option. Without clear answers about DOD’s role, this proposal cannot go forward,” Larsen said.

The hearing was held right after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that confirmed that the Republican proposal to privatize air traffic control operations would be a high-risk gamble. The GAO report confirmed what many opponents of air traffic control privatization already suspected. It found ATC privatization would negatively affect small and rural communities by jeopardizing their access to the aviation system. It could mean higher user fees for passengers, general and business aviation, and others. A privatized ATC system would be ‘too big to fail’, meaning consumers or taxpayers might have to bail out the private corporation if it couldn’t pay the $10 billion plus that it costs to operate a safe system. And finally, it would jeopardize safety oversight by splitting the FAA in two and leaving safety programs vulnerable to sequestration and shutdowns.

The GAO Report can be found here.

Extensive background on the AIRR Act and the Republican ATC privatization plan can be found here.

See DeFazio’s opening statement here.

See Larsen’s opening statement here.