July 25 (UPI) — A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday rejected the Trump administration’s goal of privatizing U.S. air traffic controllers, by approving a budget for the Federal Aviation Administration.
By a voice vote, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee passed a $60 billion spending bill for the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development and related agencies — including nearly $17 billion for FAA.
Earlier this month, their House counterparts also rejected a funding proposal to move controllers to a nonprofit corporation.
The Senate and House must resolve their differences to finalize spending before FAA legislation expires Sept. 30.
The full Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the measure Thursday.
The bill approved Tuesday specifically rejects the proposed privatization of controllers, but also provides “greater flexibilities for airports to make much-needed capacity improvements.”
The Senate budget for the FAA is $563 million above the 2017 spending level. This will provide full funding for all air traffic control personnel, including more than 14,000 air traffic controllers and more than 25,000 other personnel.
The bill also provides $1.1 billion for the FAA Next Generation Air Transportation Systems. NextGen proposes switching America’s air traffic control system from a radar-based system with radio communication to a satellite-based setup by 2025.
It also fully funds the Contract Towers program to help ease future congestion and help reduce delays for travelers. Towers at 253 airports are contracted out by the FAA to private entities who staff the facilities with certified air traffic controllers.
“For aviation, the bill does not include the administration’s proposal to privatize the air traffic control system, which appears to be a solution in search of a problem,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who heads the subcommittee, said.
The top-ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said the bill “also soundly rejects the short-sighted and counterproductive proposals that the administration’s budget requests, including the privatization of our air traffic control system.”
Last month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to move air traffic control to a nonprofit corporation. A companion bill in the Senate governing the FAA doesn’t include privatizing air traffic control. But those committee don’t approve spending.
On June 5, Trump signed a letter of initiative for a nonprofit organization funded by fees from aircraft using the system, instead of taxation on aviation fuel and airline tickets. Trump envisions modernized operations to replace the current operation that he said is “stuck, painfully, in the past.” He also called the system “ancient, broken, antiquated” and “horrible.”
Some airlines and the air traffic controllers’ union are supportive of the proposal.
The group Flyers’ Rights calls the proposal a “creation of an airline-controlled corporate monopoly.”