Congress closes the door on privatizing air traffic control

WASHINGTON — Congress authorized and appropriated spending for the Federal Aviation Administration in the omnibus spending bill last week, boosting spending and putting a cap on efforts to privatize the air traffic control system.

Some Alaskans have worried that privatizing the system could give larger commercial airlines control over the system, leaving other pilots saddled with high costs and long lines on the runway.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said he's willing to entertain his Republican colleagues' efforts only if he can get carve-outs for Alaska.

The omnibus bill boosted FAA funding for fiscal year 2018 to $17 billion, up from $16.4 billion in FY17, and included changes to air traffic controller hiring rules, aimed at addressing a shortage of workers.

The agreement comes after Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, chair of the House transportation committee, in February dropped his plans to privatize the air traffic control and split it from the FAA.

The Trump administration supports privatizing the air traffic control system, and suggested Congress include such reforms in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Shuster had argued that privatizing the air traffic control system would cut taxes, lessen waste and shrink the federal government by 35,000 employees. But the idea couldn't get enough support, he said.


In 2016, Young won allowances for Alaska in an earlier version of Shuster's bill. At the time, Young said he doesn't generally support privatization but he's willing to consider recommendations for change — "As long as Alaska is taken care of …"

Young said in a statement Wednesday that he was pleased with the FAA provisions, particularly the $155 million included for Essential Air Service, which serves remote Alaska communities.

"Aviation in Alaska is crucial for our state because it is such a major form of transportation for Alaskans," Young said. "The spending bill Congress passed last week provides the FAA with the necessary resources to continue their mission of aviation safety."

"Congress will be considering options for long-term FAA authorization legislation and I will continue to work with Chairman Shuster to ensure that Alaska's aviation industry is protected," Young said. The congressman previously served as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and continues to be a member.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.