Republican leaders are sidelining a bill that would wrest responsibility for running the nation’s air traffic control system from the government and turn it over to a private, nonprofit corporation run by airlines and other aviation interests, a House GOP aide said Thursday.
Instead, leaders plan to bring a bill before the House to temporarily extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s authorization to operate, which expires on March 31.
The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a statement that he is continuing to seek support for the privatization plan while preparing the extension bill.
His bill “proposes significant reform of our aviation system, and many current members of Congress have not seen a proposal such as this during recent FAA reauthorizations,” Shuster said. “This is an ongoing process, and we will continue working to educate members and address questions they have about the bill.”
Details of the short-term extension, including its length, are still being discussed, Republicans said.
The privatization plan is part of a $69 billion bill that would reauthorize the FAA and set aviation policy for the next six years. The transportation committee approved the bill 32 to 26 on a mostly party line vote on Feb. 11.
The decision to shelve the bill, at least temporarily, comes one day after Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, asserted that his committee has authority over the proposed air traffic services corporation since the corporation would have the power to impose fees for the use of air traffic services. Brady asked House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to refer the bill to Ways and Means, the House’s powerful tax-writing committee.
Shuster had hoped to bring to the House floor for a vote by this week.
The bill earlier drew bipartisan opposition from the top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, who complained that it ceded important congressional oversight powers to a private corporation.
Shuster’s Senate counterpart, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the commerce committee chairman, had been waiting for the House to act first on FAA reauthorization. But he told reporters earlier this week he was considering introducing his own bill given the looming March 31 deadline.
Thune’s staff has been working on a bill that doesn’t include a privatization plan, according to a Senate aide who spokes on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Shuster has said “transformational” change is needed in order to get the FAA’s air traffic control modernization plan back on track. The airline industry and the union that represents air traffic controllers are backing the plan, but other segments of the aviation industry are opposed to the plan or have not taken a position.
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