By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA

Battle lines are being drawn on and off Capitol Hill as the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee prepares to release a multi-year federal aviation program reauthorization proposal that is expected to separate the U.S. air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The T&I Committee distributed to its members earlier this week a fact sheet citing a variety of reports critical of the FAA and international experience on the benefits of privatizing air traffic control functions.  The document is largely focused on operational matters and only references aviation infrastructure in passing.  T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has long called for shifting air traffic control to a private or non-governmental entity.  The major U.S. airlines back the privatization push.

In a clearly pre-emptive maneuver, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee—which makes annual FAA funding decisions—expressed their opposition to any proposal to separate air traffic control from the FAA in a Jan. 27 letter to the Senate Commerce Committee—the Senate panel responsible for writing the next aviation reauthorization bill.  “It does not make sense to break apart the FAA, an essential part of our success in aviation,” the senators wrote.  Their letter echoes the concerns raised in a Jan. 19 letter from 15 non-commercial national aviation groups to House T&I Committee leaders.

The T&I Committee proposal could be released as early as the week of Feb. 1.  The aviation programs are currently operating under a short-term extension that expires March 31.  ARTBA and our Transportation Construction Coalition allies are working to ensure aviation reauthorization bill increases airport infrastructure investment by boosting funding for the Airport Improvement Program and allowing airports to increase the Passenger Facility Charge to raise capital funds.