Review of ATC Reform Proposals
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Full Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Summary of Subject Matter
Official Hearing Transcript
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)
February 10, 2016
Last week, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman LoBiondo and I introduced the AIRR Act: the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016.
This bill provides transformational reform of the U.S. aviation system – something that is absolutely necessary to modernize our air traffic control system, ensure the system is both safe and efficient, and ensure America leads the world in this industry.
A key reform in the bill takes ATC out of the federal government, and establishes a federally chartered, independent, not-for-profit corporation to provide that service. This corporation will be governed by a board nominated by the system’s users.
Today’s hearing focuses on the ATC reform piece of the bill.
I believe Ranking Member DeFazio and I agree that the status quo at FAA is unacceptable, and that real change is necessary. We’ve worked together on large parts of the bill, in the same bipartisan spirit as other bills this committee has passed and sent to the President. I think we’re on the same page on many reforms and provisions.
We do have an honest policy disagreement on the approach to fixing ATC.
I have been talking about my ideas for improving ATC for some time, and I’ve put them on the table. I know the Ranking Member has some ideas as well. Today is an opportunity for the Committee to discuss the ideas that have been put forward.
As I said, we have to do better. Delays, congestion, and inefficiency cost our economy $30 billion a year. One billion passengers a year will be flying in another decade or so. Without real improvement, the system is only going to get worse.
Unfortunately, FAA has proven it can’t modernize the air traffic system. Delays, cost overruns, and setbacks have been going on for over 30 years. Another recent report from the Inspector General highlighted more problems with NextGen.
The IG has also testified here that, while initial cost estimates for NextGen were about $40 billion, that cost could double or triple, and take a decade or more longer than expected. So instead of costing $40 billion and hopefully finishing in 2025, realistically we’re looking at up to $120 billion, with completion in 2035 or beyond.
Without a doubt, Congress and political interference is part of the problem. But the basic problem is that the FAA is a huge bureaucracy – it’s not a high-tech service provider.
Congress has tried procurement and personnel reforms at FAA, but the agency has failed to implement them.
The time for piecemeal reform is over. Otherwise we’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The AIRR Act takes air traffic control out of the FAA and transitions to the new corporation over three years. This corporation is completely independent of the federal government. This is not a government corporation, a quasi-government entity, or a GSE. The federal government will not back the corporation’s financial obligations.
The corporation will simply provide a service. The bill doesn’t give the airspace to the corporation – that remains in the public trust. And the FAA remains absolutely responsible for regulating the airspace and aviation safety.
We do this in a way that protects general aviation and rural communities. Non-commercial GA is exempted from fees or charges, and the corporation can’t tie airspace access to what users pay.
This structure gets ATC away from the budget process and political decision-making. I know that notion goes against the establishment, but we can do what’s best for America’s aviation system if we show the political will.
This isn’t a new idea. The Clinton and Bush administrations proposed it, and since then, an independent ATC provider has become the global standard. More than 50 other countries have successfully done this, with benefits across the board in safety, modernized systems, efficiency, service, and costs.
We will see more effective use of the airspace, more direct routes, increased capacity, shorter flight times, reduced delays and cancellations, and reduced pollution and noise. With the operational efficiencies, I believe we can save billions of dollars.
And again, FAA will focus on what it does best: safety.
We started this process over two years ago. We’ve worked with stakeholders throughout the aviation community to address issues they’ve raised. In this bill, we’ve worked to streamline the certification process, address safety issues, improve the passenger experience, provide robust funding for the AIP, and address the safe integration of drones into the airspace.
Taken as a whole, the AIRR Act does what’s best for all users of the system, and the future of U.S. aviation. I want our country to have the safest aviation system in the world, as well as the most efficient, cost-effective, and advanced system. We don’t have that today, but I believe we will under this bill.
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