Union Fight Puts Airport Bill At Risk In US Congress

For Immediate Release:

September 8, 2003

Contact:John Godfrey

Dow Jones International News

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Opposition to privatizing air traffic control towers paired with a Congressional turf battle has left a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration in trouble in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The measure also would extend and expand airline access to war risk insurance, but require the U.S. Comptroller General to compile a detailed report on the financial status of the nation's airline industry. To compile the report the Comptroller General would have access to "any books, accounts, documents, papers and records of such air carriers."

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a final version of the bill in July, but opposition to the air traffic control tower privatization provision left some Republicans dissatisfied and Democrats refused to sign the agreement at all.

"Both the House and Senate made clear their opposition to privatization of air traffic controllers with the safety of travelers in mind," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Monday. "Democrats will fight every step of the way as long as this provision remains in the conference report."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., warned last week that the longer Congress waits to consider the FAA bill, the greater its chances for failure. Lott helped write the bill and chairs one of the Senate's subcommittees on aviation.

The Bush Administration has said it does not necessarily want to privatize the nation's air traffic control towers, but it warned negotiators that it would veto the FAA authorization bill if Congress tried to block President George W. Bush's authority to do so.

House and Senate versions of the bill would have blocked privatization, but the White House intervened and inserted language into the final agreement allowing privatization in 69 air traffic control towers. The FAA argues that these towers are largely rural ones, but they include Van Nuys, Calif., the eighth-busiest airport in the country, and Seattle's Boeing Field.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the second highest ranking member on the Senate's transportation committee, argued that it was more important to get the FAA reauthorized than it was to worry about the privatization language. Still, they inserted language into the bill exempting Alaska airports from the privatization plan.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has stepped up its opposition to the measure, including a letter-writing campaign and television advertisements.

NATCA President John Carr has also enlisted the support of consumer groups who, he said in a recent release, "are rightfully concerned that putting our air traffic control system in the hands of private companies is simply not good for public safety."

The union fight might relegate the generally popular bill to passage on a party-line vote, but a turf battle between the 65-member House Appropriations committee and the House Transportation committee could mean Republicans may not have the votes to pass the bill at all.

The bill guarantees $250 million a year for the next four years for aviation security projects.

This "carve out" will block appropriators from adjusting aviation security spending and rob other programs to meet that guarantee, House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., wrote in a letter last week to colleagues.

The bill would also allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to
reimburse air carriers for costs of security screening catering supplies
and for checking documents at security checkpoints. Appropriators argue
that the money for these reimbursements could be taken from anywhere in
the budget "further undermining annual congressional oversight," Young
wrote.

By John Godfrey, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-6601;
john.godfrey@dowjones.com

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