Larsen, DeFazio Highlight Negative Consequences for U.S. Aviation System Under President’s Budget Proposal

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Reps. Rick Larsen (WA-02) and Peter DeFazio (OR-04) today highlighted the negative consequences for the U.S. aviation system under President Trump’s proposed budget. Key provisions of the President’s budget include moving oversight of the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system from the Federal Aviation Administration to “an independent, non-governmental organization” and eliminating funding for the Essential Air Service program, which provides commercial air service in small and rural communities across the country.

“President Trump’s budget ignores basic facts about the importance of the U.S. aviation system,” said Larsen, the Ranking Member on the House Aviation Subcommittee. “The fact is privatizing America’s air-traffic control system would be a long, difficult process that could jeopardize the safety of the flying public. The fact is the national airspace is becoming more efficient thanks to the progress of NextGen, which has delivered more than $2.7 billion in benefits to airlines and operators of general aviation aircraft. And the fact is eliminating the Essential Air Service program is short-sighted and would take away a vital lifeline for small and rural communities across the United States. The President’s proposed budget does not account for those facts and it is the users of the national airspace who will pay the price.”

“The budget release by the Trump Administration supports a plan to privatize our nation’s ATC system—a plan that failed to pass Congress last year due to lack of support,” said DeFazio, the Ranking Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “For the last two years, opponents of this short-sighted plan have raised serious concerns about whether ATC privatization would guarantee safety, protect national security, expedite new technology, and keep our aviation system solvent. Proponents have failed to answer any of the serious questions we have raised. Air traffic control privatization will not benefit the flying public and it definitely will not benefit taxpayers who will be on the hook for bailing out the private ATC corporation if it fails. President Trump’s budget also eliminates the Essential Air Service program, which provides air service to 173 rural communities. Despite his promises to rebuild our ‘third-world’ airports, his budget severs critical rural access to the aviation system and jeopardizes jobs and economic growth in large and small communities. Bottom line: this so-called ‘skinny’ budget exposes the big fat lies President Trump has told the American people when it comes to rebuilding our transportation infrastructure. I would pronounce it dead on arrival, but my Republican colleagues have beat me to the punch.”

Larsen and DeFazio have led Democratic opposition to the plan to privatize the federal ATC system, consistently raising concerns about the challenges and unanswered questions involved in such a proposal.

Air Traffic Control

Today, President Trump’s FY 2018 Budget supported a highly controversial proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system and hand over billions of dollars’ worth of aviation assets to special interests. In 2016, Republicans proposed to privatize air traffic control services and place them under the control of an airline-dominated board. The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held only one three-hour hearing on that legislation to privatize the ATC system used by nearly 823 million travelers. The Committee marked up the bill and passed it over bipartisan opposition less than 24 hours later. The legislation faced significant bipartisan opposition in the House and the Senate and died without floor action. The Congressional Budget Office determined that the Republican bill to privatize the United States ATC system would increase the deficit by nearly $20 billion over 10 years.

In November 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) could not confirm that a private ATC system would be capable of protecting national security and collaborating with the military to protect Americans from homeland security threats. Nor could it guarantee that a private corporation would speed up technological advances and NextGen implementation. A previous report from GAO found that ATC privatization could negatively affect small and rural communities by jeopardizing their access to the aviation system. It could also mean higher costs for passengers and other users of the system including general and business aviation. A privatized ATC system would be “too big to fail,” meaning consumers or taxpayers might have to bail out the private corporation if it could not pay the $10 billion-plus that it costs to operate a safe system. Finally, privatization would jeopardize safety oversight by splitting the Federal Aviation Administration in two and leaving its safety programs vulnerable to sequestration and shutdowns.

For additional information, including background, letters of opposition, and Dear Colleague letters, click here.

Essential Air Service

More than three decades ago, Congress enacted the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which phased out the Federal government’s control over domestic fares and routes. At the time, Congress also recognized that the free market alone could not be relied on to maintain air service to all small communities.  The Act established the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which guaranteed that communities served by air carriers before deregulation would continue to receive a certain level of scheduled air service. In subsequent legislation, Congress modified the program to ensure that it only provides air service if the service can be provided at a reasonable cost. EAS is necessary to link small communities to the larger system of commerce and, in the process, to create and sustain local jobs in rural communities.    

President Trump’s Budget eliminates EAS and the air service it helps provide to 173 communities across the United States. By reneging on the Federal commitment to support small and rural community air service, the budget effectively contemplates a policy of two Americas – one wealthy enough to support scheduled air service, and the other increasingly isolated and unable to afford full access to our national aviation system. 

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