June 08, 2017

DeFazio Statement for Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Hearing with Secretary Elaine Chao

DeFazio Statement for Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Hearing with Secretary Elaine Chao


Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) submitted the following remarks at the June 8, 2017 hearing on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Federal Aviation Administration Authorization.


Statement of

the Honorable Peter A. DeFazio
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Hearing on

“Building a 21st-Century Infrastructure for America: Federal Aviation Administration Authorization”
June 8, 2017


            Although I was not happy with the results of the November election, I was hopeful that investing in our Nation’s infrastructure was one area in which I could work with President Trump. During the campaign, he said all the right things about investing in infrastructure, to the tune of a $1 trillion infrastructure package, and to the ire of the Republican Leadership in Congress.

             Unfortunately, today’s hearing is not to discuss a plan to provide additional funding to invest in our crumbling highways, transit, ports, and airports. Instead, the first and only infrastructure proposal this Committee has received from this Administration is a controversial plan to privatize our Nation’s air traffic control system.

             A similar plan to the President’s failed 31 years ago when the airline industry brought it forward. Failed in the 1990s. Failed in the early 2000s. In fact, this plan failed last year and killed an otherwise comprehensive, bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill.

             Why has it failed time and again? Because it does not have enough support in Congress or among aviation stakeholders.

              Secretary Chao, at your confirmation hearing you said there should be “national consensus” on air traffic control reform. I hope today’s hearing will make clear to you that there is far from a consensus in Congress or among stakeholders on privatizing air traffic control.

            Privatizing the Nation’s air traffic control is yet another giveaway to special interests. It will give private, self-interested actors the power to effectively tax the flying public. It will harm national security and jeopardize aviation access to small communities. It gives away the equipment and property free of charge. It is likely unconstitutional, and it definitely will slow down NextGen. And, by the Trump administration’s own calculation, it will increase the budget deficit by $46 billion.

            Privatization is a solution in search of a thousand problems. And it will be sure to find them. By tearing the FAA apart, it will leave the agency’s critical safety oversight offices—including aviation safety inspectors and the agency’s certification offices whose operations are vital to the livelihood of U.S. aviation manufacturers—without a guaranteed funding source and subject to the vicissitudes of Congress, including budget sequestration and shutdowns.

            Proponents of privatization claim NextGen is moving too slowly and that it would be implemented more quickly under a private corporation, so let’s talk about NextGen for a moment. The truth is that privatization will actually slow NextGen down, not speed it up. According to a study by the MITRE Corporation, a proper transition to a privatized system could take seven years. During those seven years, modernization work will all but stop. In fact, even President Trump’s Budget cuts off funding for replacement of a major air traffic control facility—the New York Approach Control—and two smaller facilities in light of the limbo created by its privatization plan.

            A seven-year standstill of NextGen work would be a stunning contrast to the FAA’s progress to date. The FAA has already rolled out 8,030 performance-based navigation procedures, 4,421 wide area augmentation system approaches, and 390 required navigation performance approaches, with more in the works. The FAA has built out the ground network for a 21st-century, GPS-based air traffic control system called automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), and it is ready to go. What’s the hold up? It’s not the FAA, it’s the airlines. The airlines, not the FAA, are slowing down the process by petitioning the FAA to excuse them from certain ADS-B performance requirements because their aircraft navigation equipment is too old.

            And let’s not forget, the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution prohibits delegation of a regulatory or ratemaking function such as air traffic control or user fees to the private sector. So this plan, which delegates those powers to a private entity, is likely unconstitutional. Moreover, the Trump plan completely removes elected Members of Congress from overseeing the Corporation’s assessment of user fees, offering little to no recourse for users to challenge unfair charges, and specifically prevents judicial review. It also strips Congress of the power to effectively weigh in on behalf of constituents suffering from airplane noise when the private corporation changes aircraft routes and focuses airplane noise on their homes, day and night. Finally, the plan creates uncertainty for the 7,400 dedicated public servants who certify the safety of airlines and airplanes—who will remain subject to sequestration and shutdowns.

            I will agree with proponents of privatization on one point, however: The FAA needs stable, predictable funding. That’s why, together with Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Larsen and every Democrat on this Committee, I have introduced an alternative plan that all of FAA labor, including the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, supports. Our bill keeps the FAA together while solving the real problems the agency faces: unstable funding, inefficient procurement and personnel management processes, and political tinkering through the Department of Transportation and Office of Management and Budget.

             U.S. airspace is the busiest and most complex in the world. It is also the safest. Targeted air traffic control reforms can cure what ails the FAA without privatizing a national asset worth tens of billions of dollars and risking U.S. aviation leadership and safety.

            I urge Chairman Shuster, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman LoBiondo, and Committee Republicans to work with us on our alternative plan to achieve common ground and ensure that Congress enacts a comprehensive, multi-year FAA reauthorization bill by the end of September.  

            I regret that I am unable to attend today’s important Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing with Secretary Chao. I am in Oregon undergoing an urgent medical procedure, but I fully expect to be back to work and on the road to recovery next week. In the meantime, I appreciate the opportunity to share my statement on this critical issue.