Last week I discussed NextGen which promises to change the air transportation industry as we know it. Lately, there has been much discussion around H.R. 1835: The Air Traffic Controller Reform and Employee Stock Ownership Act. According to www.Congress.gov, “this bill directs the Department of Transportation to transfer Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] air traffic control personnel and property to a private corporation. The corporation shall issue securities to such personnel giving them stock ownership in the corporation.” The more succinct title given to the Act is “To establish an employee stock ownership plan for air traffic control personnel.”
Since being introduced into the House Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure in early 2015, the Act has gained steam and is currently up for discussion in the House of Representatives. It’s now being called the H.R. 4441: Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016. The purpose of the Act is to “to transfer operation of air traffic services currently provided by the Federal Aviation Administration to a separate not-for-profit corporate entity, to reauthorize and streamline programs of the Federal Aviation Administration, and for other purposes.” (www.Congress.gov)
The idea of the Act is to transition the federally run Air Traffic Control (ATC) system into a non-profit corporate entity. The U.S. wouldn’t be the first nation to consider this type of ATC system – Canada and Europe have Nav Canada and the Single European Sky initiative, respectively. To give some perspective, let’s take a look at Nav Canada as it’s been in place for 20 years now.
Comprised of over 3,000 employees, Nav Canada is responsible for the safe, efficient, and orderly direction and control of air traffic in Canada. As a non-profit corporation, Nav Canada is made up of a 15-member board of directors that represent the four stakeholder groups that founded the corporation. In turn, those 4 stakeholders elect 10 members divided between general and business aviation, air carriers, federal government, and bargaining agents (unions). Those 10 members then appoint 4 independent directors, not connected to the stakeholder groups – the 14 directors then appoint the president and chief executive officer. Basically, the election system is designed to keep any one member from exerting undue influence on other members in the interest of any one group.
Nav Canada sought to solve the problem of the necessary updates needed to the existing ATC system prior to its funding – the Canadian government was moving slowly on these improvements which started to cost air carriers and passengers alike. Since Nav Canada was put into place, it has been primarily funded by fees that air carriers pay amounting to over CAD$1 billion annually. In addition, there are smaller sources of revenue from research, development and other business ventures such as publicly traded debt and chargers to aircraft operators. However, as you can see, the majority of the budget is funded by the air carriers in Canada and others that use Canada’s airspace.
What Does the Act Mean for U.S. Aviation & Aerospace?
What originally was focused on transforming the ATC system, which arguably seems to be the same as NextGen, has turned into a much larger piece of legislation. There are a few distinct parts of the AIRR Act – reforming and modernizing ATC, streamlining FAA certification processes, enhancing aviation safety, improving service for consumers, modernizing airport infrastructure, and safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Reforming & Modernizing ATC
This would constitute forming a non-profit corporation comprised of a board of directors representing various interest groups in the aerospace industry. This board would work on modernizing the entire ATC system while safety is still under the direction of the FAA. The corporation would be self-funded by a cost-based user fee structure. Basically, anyone that uses the U.S. air space system would pay some type of fee. FAA employees, such as air traffic controllers, would have their employment transferred to a corporation instead of working for the government. In addition, the Act seeks to expedite the NextGen process and create a more cost-efficient ATC system.
Streamline FAA Certification Processes
The Act seeks to streamline the process of certify aerospace-related products to ensure that U.S. can effectively compete worldwide. This will allow products to get to market faster. Among other things, it provides for an improvement in the FAA workforce training and development opportunities for FAA inspectors and engineers.
Enhancing Aviation Safety
Basically, the purview of this section of the Act is quite similar to what the FAA already does, but with a few additions. Such additions include: installing safety-enhancing technologies in small aircraft, strengthening the pilot safety reporting program, streamlining the FAA medical certification process for some small aircraft pilots, and more.
Improving Service for Consumers
Under this section, the Act looks to improve the experience of the aerospace consumer through airline travel. Bags delayed over 24 hours on domestic flights would be fully refunded, the use of cellphones for in-flight communications during scheduled flights would be banned, in addition to private rooms in every terminal for nursing mothers. Also, the Act would also provide for the continuing of reforms for service at rural and secluded airports.
Modernizing Airport Infrastructure
Under the new system, the Airport Improvement Program would have “robust” funding, in addition to removing current restrictions on how airports finance their daily operations. Financing of airports has been done through many avenues including a Passenger Facility Charge which will be streamlined under the Act to aid in financing airport projects.
Safely Integrating UAS
Primarily, this section seeks to expedite the process of commercializing UAS through a risk-based permit process. UAS test ranges would be utilized more, foster development of sense-and-avoid technologies, in addition to assessing the FAA’s small UAS registration system.
As you can see, the Act seeks to touch many areas besides the reformation of the ATC system. The impacts touch not only airlines, but pilots, passengers, airports, and businesses alike. Shifting federal control to private control could change the face of aviation as we know it. While there is much discussion as to whether or not that this particular Act is good for our country, it does seem important to point out that this reform could speed up the NextGen program – an update we so badly need to the U.S. air transportation system.
However, much remains to be seen as the Act continues to move through the House of Representatives. As this issue evolves, I’ll be revisiting this topic in a later post. In the meantime, feel free to do your own research about the Act which can be found here (insert Congress.gov link). Also, please feel free to comment here or on the Blue Skies & Tailwinds Facebook page.
Read this article for a look at the new student pilot certificate process that has recently developed.