News / USA

    Plan to Spin Off Air Traffic Control Generates Turbulence

    FILE - An air traffic controller works in the tower at Newark Liberty International Airport, May 21, 2015, in Newark, N.J. The Federal Aviation Administration demonstrated to media a system, called Data Comm, that will allow for electronic communication between air traffic controllers and pilots aimed to cut delays.
    FILE - An air traffic controller works in the tower at Newark Liberty International Airport, May 21, 2015, in Newark, N.J. The Federal Aviation Administration demonstrated to media a system, called Data Comm, that will allow for electronic communication between air traffic controllers and pilots aimed to cut delays.
    Associated Press

    The air traffic control system that choreographs the roughly 7,000 aircraft in U.S. skies at any given moment is the most complex, but also one of the safest, in the world - and rarely a thought in the minds of the millions of travelers who rely on it.

    A Republican House committee chairman is launching a push this week to take away control of that system from the government and hand it to a nonprofit corporation directed by the airlines, airports, labor unions, business aircraft operators and private pilots, among others. The idea is already generating turbulence as lawmakers and lobbyists line up for and against it.

    House Transportation committee chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., said last summer when he announced his idea that the U.S. is lagging behind other nations in the transition from a radar-based system to one based on satellites.

    It's questionable whether the present system is capable of sustaining current demands, let alone future growth, he said, arguing that delays already cost passengers and the economy $30 billion a year.

    The Federal Aviation Administration, which operates the present system, has been working on its "NextGen" modernization program for more than a decade and says much progress has been made. But airlines say they have yet to see significant benefits from the billions of dollars spent on modernization.

    The agency's case hasn't been helped by reports from the department's inspector general that say system costs have doubled over two decades while productivity declined, and improvements ordered by Congress were ineffective. Some of the nation's busiest air traffic facilities don't have enough controllers while others have too many.

    Under Shuster's plan the system would still be financed with taxes on plane tickets, aviation fuel and other fees. The private corporation that directs it would use the money to float bonds to help pay for long-term modernization, free of worry about whether Congress would approve its budget. The FAA would continue to enforce air safety rules.

    "The FAA suffers from an unstable procurement system and an unpredictable federal funding structure that hampers the agency" and keeps it from staying current with new technology, said David Grizzle, a former head of FAA's air traffic organization and a proponent of privatization.

    U.S. airlines, with the notable exception of Delta, are the lobbying muscle behind Shuster's proposal. They've been pushing the idea since at least the mid-1990s, but it hasn't taken off in part because of solid opposition from the air traffic controllers union and its Democratic allies in Congress.

    Now, that may be changing. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, has said he's withholding judgment on privatization until he sees the details of Shuster's plan.

    Congressional money spats unrelated to air traffic control shut down the FAA briefly in 2011, and similar infighting led to controllers being temporarily furloughed in 2013, snarling air traffic across the country. Union officials now say removing air traffic operations from Congress' oversight might provide greater stability.

    Shuster's Senate counterpart, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., also favors privatization and has kept an eye on developments in the House. But in both chambers, the senior Democrats on the committees - Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida - are opposed. Privatization could "not only put lives at risk, it's also an example of fixing a problem that doesn't exist," Nelson said.

    There's also bipartisan opposition to privatization from the top members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its transportation subcommittee, who would lose some of their legislative turf if the FAA budget were removed from their control.

    Other anti-privatization arguments are coming from businesses that use their own planes to fly employees around, and air taxi services that fear airlines and the large airports that serve them will dominate the new corporation's board. Airlines could push those smaller services out of large airports to make room for more airliners, or force them to pay a bigger share of the system's costs.

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora