Reporting on FAA Reauthorization

By Sandy K. Johnson

Two issues certain to emerge during the complex reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration: a proposal to privatize the air traffic control system and an increase in passenger facility charges.

Current authorization expires Sept. 30, and stakeholders are stirring. Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has floated reforms that would remove the air traffic control system from FAA jurisdiction to a private not-for-profit corporation.

The devil is in the details, airline experts told reporters at a National Press Foundation briefing. Peter Dumont, president and CEO of the Air Traffic Control Association, said moving the air traffic control system from public to private control, including shifting 15,000 employees, would take at least two years if approved.

Lorraine Howerton, senior director of government relations for the U.S. Travel Association, said the passenger facility user fee of $4.50 hasn’t been changed since 2000, crippling airport modernization as the number of air travelers rises.

Brad Van Dam, senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Airport Executives, urged an increase in the fee to $8.50 with an index for inflation. He noted that airlines oppose the fee increase even as they rake in billions for baggage and other user fees. He said airports have a $15 billion backlog of airport improvement projects.

One thing seems certain: Nothing will be settled by Sept. 30. There will be many, many extensions. The last reauthorization was extended 23 times over the course of more than four years. Labor issues were the sticking point back then.