The Chairman of the House Transportation committee wants to take the air traffic control system out of the government’s hands.
The U.S. air traffic control system is the busiest in the world – controllers ensure aircraft take off and land safely and remain safely separated while in the sky.
In a speech at the Aeroclub of Washington on Monday, Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he’ll introduce a bill that would take control away from the Federal Aviation Administration.
“I believe it’s essential to separate air traffic control from our safety regulator, ” Shuster said.
Shuster says the move would improve safety in the skies and reduce delays for travelers.
“Our Air Traffic Control system is based on technology from the last century. It’s questionable whether our ATC system is capable of just sustaining current demands – delays already cost passengers and the economy $30 billion a year. But, there’s no question whether this system can handle the growth that’s coming. It cant.”
Shuster blames government red tape for an inefficient air traffic control system.
“Everyone here is familiar with the federal government’s decades-long effort to modernize the system. Everyone here also knows those efforts aren’t working.”
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents air traffic controllers said in an email “We look forward to closely examining the details of the Chairman’s proposal. Safety and efficiency are the hallmarks of our National Airspace System and they must remain at the forefront of any discussions.”
Shuster points out other presidents have tried to do this but failed.
“This is not a revolutionary concept. Presidents [George H.W.] Bush and [Bill] Clinton attempted to do this.”
Defending his proposal Shuster said, “In the last 20 years, 50 countries around the world have successfully separated out their ATC (air traffic control) service. In virtually every place this has been done, safety levels have been maintained or improved, ATC systems have been modernized, service has been improved, and costs have been generally reduced.”
He also, says a separate air traffic control will spare air travelers from Washington’s fiscal fights.
In 2013 some air traffic control towers were in danger of being shut down, due to sequestration, when the FAA was required to slash its budget. Controllers were furloughed to cut costs. That was blamed for causing widespread delays for flyers.
“Sequesters, furloughs, and shut-downs seem to lurk around every corner. We have to re-inject stability into how we fund aviation,” said Shuster.
Currently the FAA manages the U.S. air traffic control system. The agency’s funding expires in September. Shuster says he will include his proposal to make ATC an independent system in the FAA reauthorization bill.
In a statement the Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said “every day, FAA employees help manage the most complex aviation environment in the world, and they do an outstanding job. The FAA’s safety record is second to none.”
However, Foxx acknowledged the system is not perfect saying “there is room for improvement. As I have long said, this country deserves a serious conversation about the future of our transportation system and we are willing to have that conversation.
Today, Chairman Bill Shuster outlined a vision for structural reform of the FAA’s Air Traffic Operation. His proposal speaks to some of the weaknesses of the status quo and we will be reviewing it carefully. ”
The Department of Transportation oversees the FAA.