America has the busiest — and the safest — airways in the world.
We owe our safe skies to America's talented air traffic controllers. Their record is even more amazing when you consider some of their antiquated equipment is from the mid-20th century, still in use today.
In spite of this sterling record of air safety in the United States, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Airlines for America (A4A), a powerful air industry trade association, think it is time for a change.
In February Shuster, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced the Aviation Innovation Reform and Reauthorization Act. Proponents argue the legislation is needed to reform America's air traffic control system. But what "reform" was really proposed? First, the bill was designed to spin our nation's air traffic controllers off into a quasi-private agency — very much like Fannie Mae or the U.S. Postal Service. Proponents of the reform tout it as privatization in order to gain the support of Republicans in Congress and conservatives who are supportive of the idea of privatization in general.
But what's actually contained in this bill are huge giveaways to the air traffic controllers' union, including binding arbitration. Conservative organizations, including the Center for Independent Employees, the Heritage Foundation and National Right to Work Committee have urged Congress to oppose the bill's egregious labor provisions.
There should also be concern of a heavy cost to taxpayers: Shuster's bill would hand billions of dollars worth of taxpayer-owned air traffic control equipment to the new union-controlled operation.
This is not a new concept. In the 1990s Canada did the very same thing with their much smaller, less congested ATC. The Canadian system, called Nav Canada, not only transferred taxpayer assets, but awarded severance packages to all of the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers as lump sum payments for nearly 50 percent of their annual pay, just for keeping the same job but separating from the Canadian Government payroll. They did not miss one day of work and they retained other government benefits. On one day, Canadian taxpayers gave $116 million in cash as severance to 6,400 controllers, who again did not miss a single paycheck. By comparison, the U.S. has around 25,000 controllers.
The truth is we are not in dire need for such dramatic change as to accept Shuster's bill. If the ATC needs new technology, that can be done on its own.
Fortunately for America's airways and taxpayers, Rep. Shuster's bill is facing bipartisan opposition from his congressional colleagues. The Senate passed its own legislation that did not include Shuster's privatization plan.
Many believe the AIRR Act is dead, for now. We can only hope.
Russ Brown serves as CEO of RWP Labor and President of the Center for Independent Employees. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.