FAA break-up bill clears U.S. House committee

Aviation, Essential Air Service
Essential Air Service subsidizes air travel to 49 places in Alaska, including the airport at Manley Hot Springs. (2009 file photo by James Brooks)

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A bill to break up the FAA and privatize the nation’s air traffic controllers cleared the Transportation Committee in the U.S. House last night, after the committee chairman agreed to several Alaska-friendly changes.

Alaska Congressman Don Young, in a recorded statement, says the bill now preserves funding for Essential Air Service, a program that subsidizes air service to dozens of Alaska communities.

“It was a bad bill when it started,” Young said in a statement recorded late at night, after the committee amended and passed the bill. “It’s still not a good bill, but it’s a bill I’ve been able to amend, actually, (to make) mandatory funding for Essential Air Service … . That’s very important for all the villages.”

Critics say the bill is a shift toward requiring fees for FAA services, which they say will make the airways less safe, particularly for pilots of small planes. The bill would exempt all piston- and non-commercial turbine-engine aircraft from new fees, but a spokesman for the Alaska Airmen Association says the group is concerned the exemptions won’t last.

Young says he also added exemptions for Alaska’s air taxis and charters.

“And we’ll be able to take and make this bill much better by the time it gets to the floor. I have the assurance from the chairman that this will occur,” Young said, referring to Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn., the main sponsor of the bill.

The bill would divide the FAA, creating a new non-profit corporation in charge of air traffic control. Young added a provision to block the corporation from selling or shuttering FAA safety and navigational systems in Alaska. The Republican bill passed the committee along party lines. Young voted for it in committee, but he says he won’t support its passage in the House without more changes.