The Dark Cloud of User Fees (Part 5): Stinky Optics and Strong Association Support for Senate Bill S. 1405

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(Editor’s Note: This is the part 5 of an ongoing series looking into possible ATC privatization and how “user fees” are structured in the European Union. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

In the last part of this series, I told you how important it is to have the three main aviation associations working on our behalf to fight back against this horrible scheme to privatize our Air Traffic Control system. This scheme could also end up imposing an expensive, cumbersome and extremely damaging user fee system on GA and business aviation airspace users.
   
In this part of the series, I want to go over exactly what the leadership of AOPA, EAA and NBAA are saying about this ill-advised scheme. But before I get into that, I want to present something that should be of no surprise to anyone watching our Federal Government being sold off to the donors and lobbyists with the deepest pockets.
   
Like nearly everything under the current administration, cronies are being placed in charge of agencies so that the industries themselves can have their people in government to make sure their best interests – and not yours or mine – are being cared for. Oil executives in charge of regulating Big Oil, executives of massive financial institutions overseeing Big Finance. This obvious power grab by “Big” anything previously was done in secret, but today, it is in our faces, and the administration does not even try to hide it. This used to be called corruption, today it is business as usual.
   
So how does this relate to the ATC Privatization/user fees scheme? Glad you asked:
   
The website Politico broke a story this week saying Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) (the Congressman pushing this ATC Privatization scheme so hard) is dating a vice president for global government affairs for Airlines for America. That organization is the leading U.S. airline trade association, one that spends millions of dollars trying to influence the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which Shuster is Chairman.
   
I am not alleging that any improprieties took place here, but the optics of this looks very suspicious. Of course, both Shuster’s office and Airlines for America states…for the record…that the woman he is dating does not directly lobby Shuster’s panel. But since this scheme seems so heavily tilted in the favor of the airlines, this admitted relationship looks to be more of the same from Trump’s Washington. Cronies helping cronies, because that’s what people do when they have the unchecked power that comes from one party owning all three branches of our government.
   
All of the associations that lobby for GA and business aviation are on to this scheme, and are fighting to prevent the airlines from this hostile takeover of our skies. Here’s what AOPA has said:
   
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted June 29 to advance FAA reauthorization legislation. Unlike a House bill that was approved by committee on June 28, the Senate legislation, which AOPA backs, and which was approved by voice vote, does not include the privatization of air traffic control. AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker said, “AOPA supports the Senate FAA Reauthorization legislation, which would preserve the integrity of the safest and busiest airspace in the world, allow local airports to continue to contribute to the economy in small towns across America, give pilots common sense protections, and addresses the important role airports play in emergencies.” Referring to the House bill, Baker said, “Handing over our air traffic control system to the airlines would add up to $46 billion to the deficit, increase costs for all travelers, disproportionately hurt rural America and general aviation, and create a too-big-to-fail institution requiring taxpayer bailouts. I encourage everyone to call their representatives in Congress and tell them to vote against H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act.” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a pilot and AOPA member, said the Senate legislation is “a win” for general aviation.

And EAA had this to say:
   
The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Thursday unanimously passed a bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill that contains many positive reforms for general aviation pilots, aircraft owners, and airports, fully recognizing the importance of general aviation to the nation’s infrastructure and economy. It will now continue moving toward the Senate floor for a full vote. EAA supports the legislation (S. 1405), which would provide a four-year reauthorization of the FAA and its programs and does not contain the ATC privatization language offered in the House 21st Century AIRR Act. “This bipartisan Senate bill recognizes that general aviation is an equal partner in the nation’s air transportation system and points the way to making the FAA more effective,” said EAA CEO and Chairman Jack J. Pelton. “It also recognizes that the current U.S. air traffic control structure is already the safest and most efficient in the world, ready for modernization without wholesale transformation and disruption that would come with privatization.”

And when NBAA speaks on this topic, they are not just representing the “business aviation” users and the industry that serves them, they are speaking for all of us, right down to the LSA or kitplane flyer that only chases hamburgers. Here’s what NBAA released:

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen welcomed a bipartisan Senate bill to authorize funding and programs for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that takes a consensus-driven approach to addressing modernization of the nation's air traffic control (ATC) system. Senate Bill S. 1405, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2017, was introduced by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other committee leaders. In addition to targeting support toward implementation of a Next Generation ("NextGen") aviation system, Bolen noted the bill addresses several other priorities identified by NBAA and other organizations, including provisions for streamlining the certification process for aviation technologies, enhancing aviation safety and integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System.“This bipartisan legislation is the right bill at the right time, helping strengthen and provide stability for the nation’s aviation system, so that it remains the world’s best five, 10 and 25 years from now,” Bolen said. “It takes into account the perspectives of all stakeholders, bringing specific, consensus-based solutions to challenges. On behalf of our more than 11,000 member companies.” Also notable is the Senate bill’s lack of controversial language to privatize ATC oversight. NBAA has long had significant concerns with the notion of privatizing ATC, which would turn control over the ATC system – a natural monopoly that currently serves the public’s interest, and is overseen by the public’s elected representatives in Congress – to a new entity governed by private interests.
   
As I have stated all along in this series, this fight is only just beginning. The absolute best way to track what these three associations are saying and doing about stopping this scheme is to follow AOPA, EAA, and NBAA on Twitter.

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