Saturday, May 03, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- May 3

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”May 3, 1994: Vice President Albert Gore and Transportation Secretary Federico Peña announced the Clinton Administration’s proposal to create a new Air Traffic Services Corporation to operate, maintain, and modernize the air traffic system. (See Sep 7, 1993, and Jan 6, 1994.) Under the proposal, 38,000 FAA employees involved in providing air traffic services would become part of a new not-for-profit government corporation. Support for the corporation would be derived from fees levied upon commercial aviation, subject to approval by the Department of Transportation. The Department would maintain additional oversight through membership on the corporation’s board of directors, on which airspace users would also be represented. FAA would continue to exercise safety oversight over civil aviation, including the new corporation. On the same day that Gore and Peña unveiled the plan, President Clinton wrote letters urging Congress to make the new corporation a reality. During the following months, however, Congress considered a variety of plans for restructuring FAA. These proposals included calls to make the agency independent of the Department of Transportation. (See Sep 12, 1995.) “

The fact that the Clinton Administration tried to privatize the air traffic control portion of the FAA might come as a surprise to some people. It might come as a bigger surprise to know that it had some support from NATCA -- at first. The members of NATCA and the U.S. Congress both shot it down. Since that time -- as people have had a chance to study privatization more thoroughly -- a strong, popular consensus has formed that it would be a mistake for our air traffic control system. That hasn’t deterred a few think tanks and the Bush Administration from trying though. From air traffic control colleges to the recent landing slot auctions at LGA, the Administration keeps trying to get the camel’s nose under the tent.

I don’t want to get too far afield on this subject but I must mention a couple of things. First, the ATC systems around the world that have privatized/denationalized/corporatized (whatever you want to call it) haven’t done any better than the FAA. The area they have in common at the moment is the lack of controllers. I’m not sure I fully understand the “why” of it yet but I know that it is. Secondly, despite the Bush Administration’s seemingly blind faith in “the market”, I hope you have noticed that it has imposed landing slot restrictions at JFK, LGA and EWR. Ideology (it seems) does have its limitations -- even in the Bush Administration. When the delays in the New York area decrease this year I’m sure the “and” will get all the credit though. “Due to landing restrictions and the new super-duper airspace redesign, delays in New York’s airport dropped this year.” Fill in the space after and with your favorite project/cause. Higher fuel prices, better flow control, better weather, airspace redesign, whatever.

Getting back to the subject at hand, did you notice the notation in the history entry that said, “See Sep 12, 1995“ ? Let’s...

”Sep 12, 1995: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) introduced a bill to reform FAA while keeping it within DOT. The bill gave the agency more flexibility in personnel and acquisition matters (an approach that was also part of a bill to provide DOT’s fiscal 1996 appropriation: see Nov 15, 1995). The McCain bill also provided for a system of financing FAA that emphasized fees for services. The Secretary of Transportation and FAA Administrator immediately endorsed the bill, a position that marked the Clinton Administration’s shift away from its drive to create a government corporation for air traffic control (see May 3, 1994) “

(Emphasis added)

Politics makes such strange bedfellows.

Don Brown
May 3, 2008

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