Politics & Policy

The AIRR Act Is Not a Union Giveaway

(Gordon Tipene/Dreamstime)

Diana Furchtgott-Roth’s column, “Privatize Air-Traffic Control? Not if It’s a Union Giveaway,” contains serious factual errors about the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016 (the AIRR Act), which I introduced to remove air-traffic-control (ATC) service from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The AIRR Act will end the federal government’s decades-long, costly, and serial failure to modernize our antiquated ATC system. Moreover, it would allow the FAA to focus exclusively on being a safety regulator rather than a technology service provider.

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth implies that the bill constitutes a “union giveaway,” in part because of support from various unions. This is untrue. Only one labor organization that I am aware of supports the legislation. 

She also devotes a substantial part of her column asserting that the bill would allow air-traffic controllers to strike. Again, this is untrue. Section 90703 of the bill continues the existing prohibition against strikes, work-stoppages, and slowdowns by air-traffic controllers.

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth makes a number of other statements that are incorrect, misleading, or otherwise reflect a misunderstanding of the AIRR Act, ATC service, and the FAA. The unfortunate result is a caricature of the AIRR Act. Rather than further refute each of her inaccuracies, I will explain once again what we seek to achieve. 

The United States is gradually but surely losing its position of global leadership in aviation because we are one of the few countries that continue to entrust ATC operation, a technology business, to a breathtakingly ineffective bureaucracy. To solve this problem, we must take a proven step that has worked well in over 50 countries: separate ATC service from the government safety agency.

Under our proposal, the not-for-profit ATC Corporation will be governed by a board that is nominated by the system’s stakeholders and representatives of the public interest. Air-traffic controllers are one of the stakeholder groups who will nominate a board member. We made the decision to include them for a good, practical reason. Controllers have the firsthand institutional expertise and working knowledge essential to the day-to-day safe operation of our system. 

#share#But to be perfectly clear, neither the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) nor any other single stakeholder group will control the organization or determine its policies. The board structure assures that balance. The bill does not give the controllers’ union the power to derail the ATC Corporation’s decision-making. 

As Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have worked diligently to build consensus on a number of measures to improve America’s transportation network, and to make important reforms to federal transportation programs. This includes legislation for our nation’s highways, the rail transportation system, and our ports and waterways. Building consensus requires inclusion and collaboration to solve problems. 

Now we must address the future of our aviation system, before America permanently slips behind its global competitors. The AIRR Act represents the transformational reform we need to ensure that we have not only the safest aviation system, but a system that leads in efficiency and innovation. 

Various objections to the AIRR Act are an inevitable consequence of challenging the status quo. Changing the familiar is often difficult, and there will always be resistance to necessary fundamental reform. But if we fail to act, the federal government will continue on course, squandering tens of billions more taxpayer dollars on projects with few or no benefits. In the process, the United States will lose its leadership in an industry it founded. That is unacceptable.  

Consideration of the AIRR Act should be based on close and careful analysis of the facts.

—​Representative Bill Shuster (R., Pa.) is the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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