Senate smacks down Trump’s plan to privatize air control

The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will not be including President Trump’s plan to privatize air traffic control in their upcoming aviation bill.

The Trump administration had been hoping the plan would be included in an upcoming bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, whose legal authority will otherwise expire this September. Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) said Trump’s proposal will have to try to pass through the House first.

“No, we don’t have the votes to pass that in our committee at the moment,” Thune said today. “We’ll see what the House is able to do and we’ll proceed accordingly. But if that issue were to get addressed, it would probably have to be on the floor in conference.”

Under Trump’s plan, safety oversight authority would be retained by the FAA, but a nonprofit corporation would control the country’s air navigation system, funded by user fees. Concerns from Democratic and some GOP congressman have arisen regarding whether this gives too much power to a handful of aviation CEOs. Smaller airports and civilian aviators in particular may be unable to keep up with the potential rising costs to fly under such a system.

“Essentially you’re going to be privatizing the power to tax,” said Paul Hudson, member of an FAA advisory committee and president of passenger advocacy group FlyersRights.org.

Proponents of the plan, however, argue that transferring control to a private entity would streamline operations that are sometimes burdened by government bureaucracy, and free up the system to upgrade more quickly. They criticize the FAA as being tasked with regulating an agency that they also run.

“You have what is in essence a technology business embedded in a governmental agency,” said D.J. Gribbin, the president’s top infrastructure adviser.

Senate Republicans, however, are not willing to risk the FAA’s reauthorization by pairing in Trump’s more controversial proposal.

“With the administration’s support of this concept, the chances of getting a long-term FAA reauthorization in my view have now been diminished,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said earlier this month.

The upcoming FAA reauthorization likely be voted through “next week,” according to Thune. It is unknown whether the House will rally around Trump’s plan at a later date, but many political experts have estimated that its chances are more favorable than the more-cautious GOP Senate.

Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. His less-political Youtube channel can be found here. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW