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"Clinton wants new ATC setup, user fees"

Friday, December 22, 2000

Clinton wants new ATC setup, user fees
GA News

WASHINGTON, DC — President Clinton, in his waning days in office, has issued
an executive order that forms a new air traffic control organization.

As he has done virtually every year of his two-term presidency, Clinton is
also calling for user fees and peak-hour charges, points that have once
again brought immediate criticism from the general aviation community.

Aviation leaders were called to the White House Dec. 6 to be briefed on the
plan, which Clinton announced to the nation the next day.

Although representatives from several airlines attended, the Air Transport
Association was conspicuous by it absence.

Under the executive order, a new “air traffic organization” would be created
within the FAA. About 37,000 employees in air traffic control, facility
repair and maintenance, and research and development would be brought under
new management. The reorganization, Clinton said, would reduce flight

Clinton appointed five people to a subcommittee of the Management Advisory
Council (MAC), a committee that was created by the AIR-21 legislation. A
search is under way for a chief executive officer.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey will chair the new unit. The CEO will receive
the same salary as the FAA administrator, and also be eligible for a bonus
of up to 30% if performance goals are met.

Of the five members named to the subcommittee, only former Senator Nancy
Kassebaum Baker has any aviation experience. Other members are Leon Lynch,
international vice president of the United Steel Workers of America; John J.
Cullinane, chairman of the Cullinane Group; John Snow, chairman of CSX
Corporation; and Martha Patrick, president of Martha Stewart Living
Omnimedia Inc.

The length of the appointments was not immediately available.

Congress has continually rejected Clinton’s proposals for a separate,
private ATC organization outside the FAA that would be funded by user
charges. The lawmakers did, however, in passing AIR-21, order the president
to appoint a Management Advisory Council (MAC) and hire a new chief
operating officer for air traffic control.

Clinton’s executive order may set up a MAC subcommittee to oversee the chief
officer and the air traffic budget, but some believe he has gone beyond what
Congress had in mind.

While general aviation groups have voiced support for the new subcommittee,
they generally agree that Clinton’s last-ditch stand for user fees might
once again divide an aviation community that came together to push for
passage of AIR-21.

Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said
he was “disappointed” that Clinton would return to user fees and higher
peak-hour charges.

“When this divisive issue was taken off the table earlier,” Bolen said, “it
permitted all segments of aviation to work together to pass the needed
legislation. Bringing it back could divert us from cooperation to meet our
national needs.”

Bolen said there are no simple solutions for flight delays. “Demand is
greater than capacity,” he said, “and what is needed is a national effort to
make airport development a national priority.” Regarding the subcommittee,
Bolen said, “If it helps to meet the goals, fine.”

Henry Ogrodzinski, president of the National Association of State Aviation
Officials, said he also regrets that the user-fee issue has reemerged, but
he sees the subcommittee as a way to possibly bring new ideas to air

“Maybe some non-aviation people taking a look at the situation may be a good
thing,” Ogrodzinski said. “Perhaps they might make some provocative

Complaints that the nation’s air traffic control system has outdated
equipment are no longer valid, Ogrodzinski said. Equipment is now modern,
and it will take some imaginative moves to improve the way aircraft are

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association quickly stated its opposition to
user fees. “The administration, in its 11th hour, is trying yet again to
resurrect pieces of its 1993 U.S. Air Traffic Services Corporation
 proposal,” AOPA President Phil Boyer said in a prepared statement.
“Congress rejected USATS and every other user-fee proposal that has been
presented in the past seven years.”

User fees, Boyer said, will not reduce airline delays, but they would remove
congressional oversight. Boyer noted that AOPA proposed the Management
Advisory Council. He said his association supports the group of individuals
that has been appointed.

The National Air Transportation Association was less charitable in its
assessment of Clinton’s move.

“What it really amounts to is simply changing the structure for managing air
traffic control within the Federal Aviation Administration,” NATA President
Jim Coyne said.

Congress, Coyne added, has supplied funds to modernize the air traffic
control system, yet the Clinton administration continues to say it is a
funding problem when it is really a management issue. The congestion/pricing
idea — charging higher fees during peak-time usage — is a tax on users of
the busiest airports, and those who fly frequently in order to meet business
and personal obligations.

Some Washington observers question whether the subcommittee can actually do
anything, considering the layers of authority to which it is subjected.

The subcommittee will be subordinate to the Management Advisory Council,
which will be subordinate to the FAA administrator, who in turn must answer
to the secretary of Transportation. The Transportation secretary is
accountable to the president, the Office of Management and Budget, and the

The only area where the Management Advisory Council will have genuine
authority is with the budget. It will be empowered to alter the White
House-proposed budget for the air traffic organization. The board’s budget
would then go through the Transportation secretary and back to the White
House, which must submit it to Congress without revisions.

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