American air-traffic control is safe, but as currently constituted, the system won’t be able to keep up with the increasing demand for domestic and international air travel. To ensure Federal Aviation Administration can continue to modernize and operate efficiently, free of budget uncertainty and political interference, air-traffic control should be turned over to an independent nonprofit corporation, as proposed by H.R. 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act.
From 1996 to 2012, the FAA’s budget doubled, even though staff levels stayed roughly constant and the agency’s productivity actually fell. A 2016 inspector-general’s report found that, of the system’s 15 most recent major system acquisitions, eight had gone over-budget by a total of $3.8 billion and eight were behind schedule by an average of more than four years. These sorts of problems illustrate the difficulties the FAA faces in adapting to new market conditions due to higher and more complex demand.
The 21st Century AIRR Act—sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which cleared the bill June 27 in a 32-25 vote—would assign oversight of America’s air-traffic control system to a new nonprofit corporation, with a CEO who is answerable to a board of directors made up of “a diverse cross-section of the aviation system’s stakeholders and users.” The act would refocus the FAA on federal safety oversight and streamline the FAA certification process, making it easier for companies to get their products out on time. This would encourage innovation in aviation technology by lowering the cost of implementation.
The proposal has support from President Donald Trump, who included a version of it in his proposed FY 2018 budget. As the National Taxpayers Union Foundation detailed in a recent piece, “the budget forecasts that taxes would be reduced by $115 billion from FY 2021 to FY 2027. The FAA’s budget for ATC would be reduced by $70 billion, leaving the agency to focus on regulating aviation safety.”
But the measure also faces pushback from a variety of aviation interests. They prefer the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill from Sen. Jon Thune, R-S.D., which does not include air-traffic control privatization. The Schuster proposal should be considered commonsense legislation, not only cutting government waste but making the world a little bit safer. Let’s hope it moves on the House floor soon.
Image by Stoyan Yotov