General Aviation is overwhelmingly opposed.

The 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act introduced on June 22, 2017 and sponsored by Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Schuster, went into a holding pattern yesterday.  Democrat and Republican support needed to pass Congress landed short.  Shuster, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee stated in a press release yesterday, “Despite an unprecedented level of support for this legislation – from bipartisan lawmakers, industry, and conservative groups and labor groups alike – some of my own colleagues refused to support shrinking the federal government by 35,000 employees, cutting taxes, and stopping wasteful spending.”

The 21st Century AIRR Act addresses privatizing Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC affects everyone, even those who have never been in an aircraft.  Mail, packages, business meetings and family gatherings are possible due to air transport.  There are two camps on privatization of the ATC system:  Airlines and General Aviation.

The Airlines support turning over ATC to a private entity funded by user fees instead of excise taxes collected by the government.  American Airlines President Doug Parker has expressed the opinion that the private sector can accelerate the pace at which the ATC System moves into NEXTGEN, next-generation air traffic control, increasing safety while reducing delays and carbon emissions, and suggests that this will open up more capacity for competition and improve air service.

General Aviation is overwhelmingly opposed.  On the convention floor of the October 2017 National Business Aviation Association Conference held in Las Vegas, red T-shirts and banners emblazoned with “ATC NOT FOR SALE” were on full display.  “If you look at history, the airlines have increasingly become anticompetitive,” said Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, in an interview with the Dallas Business Journal.  “They have combined into four commercial operators that control about 70 percent of the market.  Seat space is decreasing.”  She goes on to say, “There have been calls in Congress for more oversight (of airlines), not handing them the keys to the air traffic control system.”

Flying has been a key part of my life for over 35 years, so I have benefited from the ATC system…directly, and often.  Early in my aviation career, I spent nearly five years in airline dispatch; directing the daily operations of the freight and passenger carriers.  Yesterday’s announcement that the 21st Century AIRR Act lacks support in the House came like the sun peaking through white, fluffy cumulous clouds after the storm, revealing a bright blue sky.  While studying Aviation at the University of North Dakota back in the early 1980s, I was part of a group assigned to write a report on the projected effect of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.  Would the 1978 law increase or decrease competition?  We, a group of four aviation undergraduate students, disagreed with Congress and predicted that airline deregulation would ultimately reduce the options available to airline passengers.  Specifically we predicted that there would be two or three “super carriers” (airlines that control the majority of market share).

The line of thunderstorms, known as the 21st Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act, may be dissipating at the moment, but the lull is unlikely to last.  In yesterday’s press release, House Chairman Shuster stated, “Although our air traffic control reform provisions did not reach the obvious level of support needed to pass Congress, I intend to work with Senator Thune and move forward with a reauthorization bill to provide long-term stability for the FAA.”