The 21st AIRR Act Takes Off

By Rachel Cole

Wastewatcher, July 2017

On June 22, 2017, House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced H.R. 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act.  The legislation will provide for a six-year reauthorization and significant reforms to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

One of the most substantial reforms in the AIRR Act is the overhaul of the air traffic control (ATC) system.  The current ATC system still uses World War II-era radar systems despite the significant technological advances that have been made since the United States declared victory over the Axis powers.

On January 15, 2016, the FAA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report, “FAA Reforms Have Not Achieved Expected Cost, Efficiency, and Modernization Outcomes.”  The OIG stated that eight of FAA’s 15 recent major system acquisitions were over budget by $3.8 billion, and eight were behind schedule by an average of more than four years.  One such program is the Next General Air Transportation System (NextGen), which has been “slow to adopt acquisition best practices to manage its contracts,” according to the OIG.  The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure reported that $7 billion has been spent on NextGen to date, but costs could reach as much as $120 billion to complete, at which time the resulting technology is likely to be obsolete.

A letter signed by the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) and 20 other organizations in favor of ATC modernization stated the following:  “To us it is axiomatic that user-funded, user-accountable entities are far more capable of delivering timely improvements in a cost-effective manner than government agencies.  By drawing upon the positive experiences of dozens of nations that have freed their air traffic control enterprises from the stifling grip of bureaucracies, policymakers can chart a saner course.”

The AIRR Act would establish a federally-chartered, independent, not-for-profit corporation to operate and modernize the ATC system, an idea that was supported by both the Bush and Clinton Administrations.  ATC privatization was also recommended by the Grace Commission, and has always been supported by CCAGW.

The AIRR Act would separate ATC from the FAA and allow the system to run like a business.  More than 60 countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have separated their ATC systems with positive results.  According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Canada’s not-for-profit ATC system has seen a 45 percent reduction in over 20 years.  

In addition to reforming the ATC system, the AIRR Act would also reduce bureaucratic red tape at the FAA, streamline the certification process for new products, and increase the transparency of government-imposed taxes and fees on plane tickets.

The AIRR Act takes a significant step to revamp and reform the FAA, which will reduce the burden on taxpayers and improve the process for airline customers.  The ATC system is outdated, over budget, and is as harmful as it is wasteful.  Chairman Shuster’s reform are essential and should be adopted.

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