The U.S. House passed a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration for another five years last month — alas. Our lament has nothing to do with what’s in the bill, which will keep this vital and generally effective agency funded on a stable basis, a welcome improvement over the series of temporary extensions enacted in recent years. And we’re duly impressed with the hefty 393-to-13 bipartisan vote in favor. The depressing thing about the bill is what’s not in it: a plan for fundamental reform of the air traffic control system.
For years, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has been working with fellow lawmakers and aviation interest groups on a proposal to shift air traffic control from the FAA to a government-owned air traffic control corporation supported by user fees and governed by stakeholders.
Other advanced industrial countries, such as Canada and Germany, have adopted a version of the idea. The main advantage of a separate, self-governing nonprofit entity would be to end the constant political bickering in Congress over the FAA’s budget, enabling much-needed technological modernization to proceed regardless of government shutdown worries and other hassles. Another plus would be to let the FAA focus exclusively on its safety regulation mission.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it “a tired Republican plan” that “would hand control of one of our nation’s most important public assets to special interests and the big airlines.”
Not really: In addition to having bipartisan roots, Shuster’s plan was most ferociously opposed by the quintessential narrow special interest: the corporate-jet and private-plane lobbies, which feared having to pay higher fees for less access to airspace.
Yet the narrow-interest lobbies retained enough clout in the House, even among Republicans, to force Shuster suddenly to drop his efforts and to settle for a five-year reauthorization of the existing system.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST