WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Democrat on the Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, John Carr, President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and Jeremy Yahn, an experienced Air Traffic Controller, held a press conference this afternoon in opposition to Republican attempts to privatize air traffic control and weaken air safety. The following is Rep. Hoyer’s statement as prepared for delivery:
“It has been two years since the September 11th terrorist attacks, but that day’s tragedies are still overwhelming. In fact, that day still informs many of the decisions that we make here on Capitol Hill.
“Those attacks, using commercial airplanes as weapons, showed us how vulnerable our nation’s aviation system was. Congress vowed then to do everything in its power to ensure the safety of air passengers in the future.
“That is why I am here today with the ranking Democrat of the Transportation Committee, Jim Oberstar, Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on that committee’s Aviation Subcommittee, and John Carr, the President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
“Their committee crafted a bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill that would protect our nation’s air travelers by prohibiting the privatization of air traffic control. The Senate bill contained a similar provision.
"However, the Bush Administration ignored the will of both houses of Congress and demanded that it be allowed to privatize air traffic controllers. As usual, the Republican leaders said, ‘your wish is our command.’ Republican leaders inserted a provision allowing the FAA to privatize 69 Visual Flight Rule Towers and shielding the air traffic control system from privatization only until 2007.
“And to add insult to injury, or rather, irony, Chairman Young made clear his preference for public control of the air traffic control system when he exempted two airports in Alaska from the very provision he inserted.
“Once again, Republicans have taken a bipartisan bill crafted with the best interests of the American people in mind and bogged it down with extreme provisions. And knowing that this action did not enjoy broad support, the Republican majority inserted the provision with no debate and no opportunity for Democrats to review the changes.
“In a nutshell, Republicans knew this change was so bad that they were scared of having to face open debate on it. But there is a larger issue here than simply the process — the safety and security of the American people.
“It strikes me as odd that the majority would insist upon auctioning off the functions of the air traffic control system, when we federalized airport baggage screeners after it became clear that private control of airport baggage screening resulted in major security lapses in our airports. Air traffic remains a prime target of terrorists and serious vulnerabilities persist, from unscreened cargo on commercial aircraft to shoulder-fired missiles.
“Air traffic control is a critical national safety function and therefore it is an essentially government function. It should be performed by the government, which can maintain universal, comprehensive oversight, just as it does with nuclear reactors and the military.
“The Administration is so blinded by its desire to privatize government functions that they have lost sight of the best interests of the American people in the process. The safety of our skies should not be left to companies who are, rightly, concerned with how they are going to make a profit and fatten the bottom line.
“The Republican leadership and the White House should stop holding this legislation hostage and start focusing on the safety and best interests of the American public.”