House chair to push for independent FAA

House chair to push for independent FAA

Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today said he will push legislation to make the Federal Aviation Administration an independent agency.

Shuster, during a meeting with reporters, said the FAA should not be privatized-but that it should be made into an independent agency like NASA, which would free it from the "enormous political pressures" of the White House and Transportation Department.

Specifically, Shuster charged that the Clinton administration has interfered on behalf of labor unions whenever the FAA has tried to change work rules for air traffic controllers and other workers to improve productivity.

"We would remove the political pressures," Shuster contending that the "FAA's regional fiefdoms are inhibiting productivity."

Shuster's most daunting task this year will be increasing funding for the FAA, air traffic control equipment, and airport construction-a mini-version of the battle he fought last year with the House GOP leadership over increasing highway spending. Of the $10 billion collected by the aviation trust fund each year from aviation taxes, Shuster said only $5.6 billion is spent.

"If the [airport infrastructure] needs aren't there, then we should reduce the tax. But the needs are there," Shuster said. Traffic at some airports is growing at 15 to 20 percent per year, and congestion is causing "very serious, serious problems" with delays of passenger jets and cargo, he said, adding, "If we've got $10 billion coming in, then we should be free to spend it."

However, 25 percent of aviation spending now comes from general discretionary funds. Shuster said he wants to maintain the level of FAA money from the general fund even if Congress agrees to spend all the trust fund money.

"There is a legitimate, historic reason to retain general fund expenditures," he said. Shuster said he also would support increasing passenger facility charges, but only if all the trust fund money is first allocated for aviation.

Increasing aviation spending by more than $5 billion a year likely will meet resistance from House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio. While Shuster said the overall House GOP leadership supports his committee's agenda this year, he did not say if they back increased aviation spending.