The 21st Century AIRR Act, which would reauthorize and reform the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is a milestone in good governance. Our legislation will refocus the FAA on its essential role of ensuring that our airspace – from the aircraft that fly us to the rules governing the pilots who fly them – is safe.
Key provisions in this legislation will cut Washington red tape and streamline FAA certification processes to ensure that American entrepreneurs and innovators continue to lead a competitive global aerospace marketplace.
As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I worked on the development of this legislation every step of the way, and the bill includes a provision I cosponsored which would prevent future “flag of convenience” carriers attempting to circumvent U.S. and European Union labor standards from receiving an operating permit from the U.S. DOT.
By far, the most monumental and transformational reform in the 21st Century AIRR Act will create a federally chartered, independent, not-for-profit corporation to operate our nation’s air traffic control (ATC) services. Over 60 countries – including Canada and the United Kingdom – have already made similar reforms and have seen consistent improvements in safety, technology modernization, and operational performance.
In contrast, the FAA has spent over 30 years attempting to modernize our ATC system to meet the demands of the future. The FAA’s most recent modernization effort, “NextGen,” has cost well over $7 billion, and the Department of Transportation inspector general has warned of tens of billions in cost overruns ahead and an additional decade needed for completion. Despite these substantial investments in time and resources, our ATC system still utilizes World War II-era radar technology, and our air traffic controllers manage the movement of planes by manually handing off paper strips from controller to controller. Resulting delays and congestion will only be compounded by increasing passenger volumes, which are soon expected to reach one billion annually.
To be clear, these failures are not an indictment of the FAA’s dedicated employees. They are the result of expecting the federal government, with its inherent bureaucracy, to behave like a nimble high-tech service provider.
That’s why the 21st Century AIRR Act spins off ATC service to a provider that will be set up as a business with a CEO who is answerable to a board of directors. The board will be nominated by aviation system stakeholders and empowered to make the investments needed to prepare our ATC system to meet the demands of the future. Members of the board may not be employees of any business that uses the corporation’s services or has a material interest in any supplier, client, or user of ATC services, ensuring members are making decisions that are best for the aviation system as a whole.
To be clear, this does not mean that our air space will be privatized. In fact, this legislation ensures general aviation will maintain equal access to the air space and prominent representation in the board’s governance structure. What’s more, the new corporation will receive no federal funding. As we face ever difficult choices about where to allocate limited federal resources, this is an opportunity to save taxpayer dollars and implement better approaches to doing business.
The folks in Georgia’s 3rd District sent me to Washington to enact bold reforms to and make targeted infrastructure investments that maintain American leadership in the 21st century. The 21st Century AIRR Act does just that, and I look forward to supporting it when it comes to the House floor.
(U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson is a Republican representing Coweta and surrounding counties in the U.S. House of Representatives.)