Bucking Trump, Senate FAA bill leaves controllers in place

Juneau International Airport (Photo by James Brooks)

President Trump wants to privatize air traffic control across the country. But the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee passed an aviation bill last week that does not include privatization.

Listen now

Committee Chairman John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said he’s not convinced.

“I remain open-minded about moving the FAA’s ATC function into a not-for-profit, non-governmental body,” Thune said. “But I also appreciate that sincerely held concerns exist.”

The Commerce committee moved the bill but did not take a separate vote on privatization. Sen. Dan Sullivan said he was thankful for a different program in the aviation bill – the continuance of Essential Air Service.

“This is something that, as you know, is very important to rural states, like mine,” Sullivan, a member of the committee, said.

Essential Air Service is a subsidy that brings down the cost of flights to rural communities.

In Alaska, airlines get $21 million to fly 61 routes. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating funds for the program.

The House version of the aviation bill also continues Essential Air Service. Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill would transfer air traffic control to a non-profit corporation.

Most major airlines are promoting privatization. But general aviation groups are skeptical. They are concerned about user fees and say the new corporation could be controlled by the airline industry.

If both bills pass as-is, a conference committee will have to work out the differences.