Only in Washington, a witness told a Senate hearing Tuesday, would decisions be made on the assumption that Congress could not do its job.
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran had set up the response by explaining possible opposition to his legislation providing alternative funding for the Federal Aviation Administration in case of a government shutdown.
Some colleagues, the Kansan said, had mentioned that the elimination of risks about diminishing air traffic control could actually lead to more shutdowns.
“I would hope that we could do our jobs better than we’ve done them to date,” Moran said.
Ed Bolen, a University of Kansas graduate and head of the National Business Aviation Association, agreed with the Republican senator and offered a rueful reply.
“Your explanation on why not to pass your bill is an only-in-Washington explanation,” he said. “Everywhere else, people know our economy, our safety, depends on a strong and robust air transportation system.”
The exchange took place during a Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee hearing on the nation’s air traffic control system.
Those testifying spelled out a variety of merits and shortcomings in the system, but all agreed with the need for Moran’s bill, the Aviation Funding Stability Act. To assure all air traffic operation in a government shutdown, the measure would allow funding to come from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.
“We ought to be able to work through our challenges, not requiring a disaster, a catastrophe or even just difficulties for the American traveling public, just to get us to do our work,” Moran said.
According to the FAA, the nation’s air traffic control system handles more than 16.1 million flights annually, or more than 44,000 a day. Nearly 2.8 million passengers fly every day in and out of American airports.
There are 14,695 air traffic controllers.
Trish Gilbert, the executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told the subcommittee that the absence of a “stable, predictable funding stream” comprised the greatest challenge to the FAA and the National Airspace System.
“What I’d like not to see is another shutdown to convince people to sign on to this legislation,” she said to Moran. “ We can not afford to suffer another government shutdown.”
The witnesses also decried any renewal of efforts to privatize the air traffic control system.
Last year, the then-chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, gave up on his long-running effort to sever air traffic control with the FAA and the federal budget and make it a more flexible not-for-profit corporation.
Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that privatization has not worked well in other countries.
“Of all the issues that we hear about from our members, I can tell you that our ATC system is not one of them,” Baker said. “Privatizing the system will not reduce the delays, will not reduce the ticket prices, will not make seats larger.”