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Secretary Chao Testifies on ATC Reform in Senate Hearing

Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee for her first time since being confirmed on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. The hearing follows a highly publicized announcement that took place on Monday where President Trump signed legislative principles on an air traffic control (ATC) privatization at the White House. The Secretary will also testify on ATC privatization and FAA Reauthorization in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee tomorrow.

Sec. Chao’s testimony echoed the President’s previous statements of support for privatizing ATC and referred to the overhaul as the “cornerstone of the infrastructure proposal.” There was, however, much skepticism from both republican and democrat members of the committee regarding how the proposed reform would affect a number of critical elements of the national airspace system.

Of significant concern to many of the members of the committee was how small airports in rural areas would be impacted. Sec. Chao stated that privatizing ATC would provide more budget certainty which would enable continued air service to rural areas. Concerns were raised that the entity’s governing board would be heavily influenced by the airline industry and that accessibility and affordability of air service to rural areas would be compromised.

The Contract Tower Program was brought up by several members who were seeking assurance that it would be protected under a new private system. Sec. Chao stated, “Contract towers are the first to go during any budgetary cutbacks,” and claimed that threats to the program would be reduced under a privatized model. However, there was a strong sentiment from some members that the future of the program would be better off under congressional oversight than a 13 member board.

Chairman John Thune (R-SD) asked Secretary Chao if the administration intends to charge per-flight user fees on general aviation (GA) operations. Sec. Chao said two of the seats on the governing board would go to general aviation and that would ensure the industry’s influence. She did not go as far to say that GA user fees were off the table.

Several committee members expressed the importance of passing a long term FAA Reauthorization bill and suggested that the administration’s proposed ATC reform could stand in the way. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) said, “The decision needs to be made by you and other members of the administration: Is our priority a long-term FAA authorization or is it privatization of air traffic control? Because those two things may be mutually exclusive.”

Tomorrow Secretary Chao will testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where the administration’s proposed ATC reform is likely to encounter less skepticism- at least from some in the majority.

NASAO will continue to monitor all major developments and advocate on behalf of its collective membership to Congress on issues of importance in the upcoming FAA Reauthorization bill. Please contact John Shea at or (703) 610-0272) with any legislative inquiries.

Categories: News
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