Administration pushes FAA management overhaul

Administration pushes FAA management overhaul

With an eye toward the presidential campaign of Vice President Gore, the Clinton administration during the conference on the FAA reauthorization bill will push to restructure the air traffic control system that has been blamed for delays increasingly plaguing the airline system.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, in an interview this week, said reforming the FAA management will be the administration's top priority heading into the conference committee, which likely will start next week. Slater outlined the policy reasons for increasing spending on aviation.

But there also may be a big political payoff.

Passenger complaints about the airlines and the air traffic control system and infrastructure have touched a raw nerve with the public. Gore's allies and the administration recognize that a successful restructuring of the FAA that reduces passenger delays and hassles would prove to be a hot political platform, aides and lobbyists said.

Revamping air traffic control management and building more aviation infrastructure could prove to be a political winner for whichever party or presidential candidate can claim credit.

Slater said the FAA's restructuring plan, for which the agency will advocate during the conference committee, goes much further than the House or Senate bills. A plan summary says it will eliminate "rules and regulations that can hamper the agency in carrying out its mission", which normally would sound like a Republican platform.

Slater's plan would establish a performance-based organization to run air traffic services, and create a chief executive officer to oversee the day-to-day operations.

"Under the proposal, the Transportation secretary and FAA administrator would retain overall responsibility for aviation safety and security, [but] air traffic would not be restrained by rules that may apply to other areas of the FAA unrelated to air traffic control," according to a summary.

The House and Senate bills create a new chief operating officer for air traffic services, and a board to oversee FAA management and operations. But those bills do not, as the administration proposes, create a separate organization to run air traffic control.

A key part of Slater's performance-based organization would control spending for aviation equipment and infrastructure, and would be funded by a steady source of revenue by raising the caps on passenger-facility charges from the current $3 per passenger to $5 per passenger, while reducing the ticket tax.

The plan is an attempt to move away from funding airport infrastructure and operations with a tax based on the percentage of value of each ticket, and instead charge "fees" related more to the actual use of the airport facilities by each airplane and airline.

Slater said the administration wants to increase spending on aviation infrastructure, but said he disagrees with Shuster about spending more federal revenue on that infrastructure. Instead, Slater proposes the airports themselves be responsible for raising their passenger facility charges.

But the PFC approach of raising fees runs the risk of Republicans charging the administration with raising new "taxes", as Republicans have done on administration-proposed fees for park use.

In any event, Slater will push for a dramatic revamping of FAA management, funding sources, rules and regulations because he says it is good policy. But there will be a political bonus if Gore can claim credit for acting on behalf of frustrated passengers.