U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee which oversees the FAA, took to the Senate floor this evening to slam the administration’s proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system:
“So let’s hand over to the airlines all the people and the equipment essential to the safe operation of our nation’s air traffic control system and trust them, the airlines, to manage our skies,” Nelson said. “We know that several airlines in the past year have had to cancel thousands of flights and strand passengers at airports for hours because they couldn’t effectively manage their IT systems. How can we trust the airlines to govern an entity that manages our skies, when it can’t even manage its own basic IT systems?”
Below is a rush transcript and here’s a link to watch video of Nelson’s remarks.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
June 5, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to talk about a subject that is near and dear to the presiding officer’s heart as well as to this senator because we both have the privilege of serving on the Senate Commerce Committee — Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Mr. President, Congress finds itself facing a year of deadlines and the two most talked about ones are the debt ceiling and the continued funding for the government. But if that were not enough, a very important deadline is looming that affects the safety of the traveling public. By the end of September, Congress must reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration or risk the shutdown of the agency’s core safety mission. This senator has the privilege of being the ranking member of the Commerce Committee and I have the privilege of working with the chairman, Senator Thune, on a comprehensive and long term FAA reauthorization bill. Unfortunately what prevented the long-term bill from passing Congress last year, it’s threatening to do the same again this year all over.
This morning the White House formally announced its intention to privatize air traffic control, that function of the FAA, a move that the White House claims will be self-sustaining.
This so-called plan for ATC privatization includes an entity that will be run, in large part, by, you guessed it, the major airlines. And that entity would receive, free of charge, government owned FAA assets and that entity would collect user fees to finance its operations.
Well, this is how many of us interpret this proposal: so, let’s hand over to the airlines all the people and the equipment essential to the safe operation of our nation’s air traffic control system and trust them, the airlines, to manage our skies and the increasing air traffic.
And on top of that, here on the other side — on top of that — well, let’s finance the airlines’ control of our sky through user fees paid by the general aviation community.
We know that several airlines in the past year have had to cancel thousands of flights and strand passengers at airports for hours because they couldn’t effectively manage their IT systems. How can we trust airlines to govern an entity that manages our skies when it can’t even manage its own basic IT systems?
The FAA, our government Federal Aviation Administration, safely and effectively manages the largest and most complex airspace in the world. Supporters of air traffic control privatization can cite other countries all they want to that have privatized, but none of those privatized systems hold a candle to the complicated air traffic and densely populated air traffic system that the FAA has accomplished.
Rather than helping the FAA continue its progress toward modernizing our air traffic control system through NextGen, that is being implemented as we speak and in three years the process of handing off most of the air traffic to the satellites instead of ground-based radar — that’s just in three years — the transition, on the other hand, to a privatized air traffic control entity is only going to disrupt and delay the FAA’s modernization efforts.
So one has to ask, if it isn’t broken, what exactly is it that the administration trying to fix? We actually have real issues that need to be addressed in this FAA bill: how to continually, safely integrate drones into our nation’s airspace. Another one: reforming the process for aircraft certification. And, very importantly, helping the FAA hire more air traffic controllers. And we need to work to ensure that consumers — consumers, the flying public — have real protections in place that protect them when things go wrong. I really wish the administration would focus on those issues, which receive near unanimous support in the Senate last year, rather than try and upend the world’s safest air traffic control system.
So let’s not get sidetracked by proposals that have near the bipartisan consensus in Congress nor agreement among aviation stakeholders.
Mr. President, we came very close last year to enacting a bipartisan and comprehensive FAA bill. It passed the Senate by 95-3. All of that, it didn’t have air traffic control privatization.
I know we can do it again, and I look forward to working with Senator Thune and the members of the committee who will have the first crack at this when we bring up the FAA bill. And hopefully we can go with a consensus bill that will give us an authorization for the FAA many years — five to seven years in the future, so we can have the certainty of the authorization with which to continue to build a safe airline and air safety record and implement the next generation of air traffic control.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.