WASHINGTON — A House committee chairman says President-elect Donald Trump likes the idea of spinning off air traffic control operations from the government and placing them under the control of a private, non-profit corporation chartered by Congress.
Rep. Bill Shuster, head of the House transportation committee, told The Associated Press that he spoke to Trump about the idea several times both before and during the presidential election.
He said he believes the president-elect would be supportive, although details would have to be worked out.
“I have spoken to him on a number of occasions and he generally likes the idea,” Shuster said. “We do need to sit down and put meat on the bones … I think in general he sees it as something that’s positive and we need to work on it.”
The Republican lawmaker endorsed Trump early on and campaigned twice with him in his Pennsylvania congressional district. He also campaigned twice with Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Since the election, Shuster has met with Shirley Ybarra, a former Virginia transportation secretary who is working with the Trump transition team on transportation matters.
Ybarra and the Trump transition team didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shuster and most of the airline industry have been pressing for air traffic control privatization. They say the Federal Aviation Administration is moving too slowly to adopt new technology and that airlines haven’t seen the benefits they expected from the agency’s air traffic control modernization program, which has been in the works for more than a decade.
Earlier this year, Shuster included a plan to privatize air traffic control in a bill to extend the FAA’s operating authority. The bill was approved by the transportation committee, but Shuster was unable to get it to the House floor after several influential lawmakers, including the Ways and Means Committee chairman and the House and Senate Appropriations Committee chairmen, raised objections. Democrats, some segments of the aviation industry and some FAA unions also oppose the plan, although the National Air Traffic Controllers Association endorsed the bill.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman and Shuster’s Senate counterpart, hasn’t taken a position on the issue. He said Friday that the FAA hasn’t been successful in bringing fundamental change to how air traffic is managed despite spending billions of dollars.
“Congress has different options, and we will continue to explore them, but the case for changing the FAA’s approach to air traffic control modernization has become stronger,” Thune told the AP.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the senior Democrat on the House transportation committee, cautioned earlier this week that any proposal to overhaul the existing air traffic system “must be thoroughly vetted, not rushed through Congress just because the political landscape makes it easier.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., raised objections Friday to what he described as an attempt by House proponents of air traffic control privatization to include language in a defense policy bill that would effectively squelch military objections to the plan. Nelson described his concerns in a letter Friday to Senate Armed Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the committee’s senior Democrat.