By Robert Poole

As the prospect of taking the Air Traffic Organization out of FAA and reconstituting it as a self-supporting air navigation service provider (ANSP) draws closer, many supporters and opponents are making stronger statements about their positions—while a few seem to be hedging their bets.

House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair Rep. Bill Shuster (R, PA) had planned to unveil the draft bill language for a federally chartered nonprofit ATC corporation the week of July 6th, but at the last minute that decision was rescinded by House GOP leadership, allegedly due to lack of floor time to debate the bill until after the August recess. But a brief summary of the overall reauthorization bill was posted on the T&I website the next week. The two-page Aviation Innovation, Reform, & Reauthorization Act summary included six bullet points about the proposed “independent, not-for-profit corporation, to operate and modernize the ATC system,” along with other sections dealing with streamlining FAA certification, enhancing aviation safety, improving consumer service, modernizing airport infrastructure, and integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the airspace.

Pulling the draft ATC portion disappointed the organizers of the Transportation Research Board’s July 7th “Air Traffic Control Symposium on Organizational Reform Options.” The event drew a large in-person attendance, supplemented by scores of online attendees. Former senior DOT official Jeff Shane’s opening address put the ATC reform effort in historical context, as he urged stakeholders not to let the current opportunity (at long last) slip through their fingers.

Panelists discussed the disappointing accomplishments of the reform that created the Air Traffic Organization (Russ Chew), the Clinton/Gore government corporation proposal (Dorothy Robyn), the idea of corporatizing the entire FAA (Craig Fuller), a federally chartered nonprofit corporation (Robert Poole), and retaining the status quo (Kevin DeGood). Subsequent panels related the successful stories of ANSPs overseas, with participants from Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and the U.K., as well as a summary of MITRE’s findings that safety regulation improved after ATC corporatization overseas.

A stakeholders’ panel revealed nothing new—airlines and NATCA for reform, airport groups waiting to see how airports would fare, AOPA preferring continued use of fuel taxes in any new structure, NBAA adamantly opposed, and likewise technicians’ union PASS.

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