House panel approves bill privatizing air traffic control

WASHINGTON — A House panel approved legislation Tuesday that would split off management of the nation’s skies from the Federal Aviation Administration and give that responsibility to an independent, nonprofit company.

The Republican-led committee approved the legislation by a vote of 32-25 with supporters saying it was critical to remove air traffic control from the vagaries of the government’s budget process. Proponents say Washington dysfunction hampers the FAA’s efforts to update equipment designed to make flying quicker and safer. The legislation would establish a company with a 13-member board of directors to provide air traffic services.

About 35,000 workers, including 14,000 controllers and 6,000 technicians, would be affected by moving air traffic control operations out of the FAA. The agency would still be responsible for regulating aviation safety, including the work of the new company.

The union representing air traffic control workers endorsed Rep. Bill Shuster’s bill. The union said the legislation will protect the workforce and provide predictable funds for the aviation system.

The committee considered nearly 80 amendments and “voted to move forward to give Americans the safe, efficient, modern aviation system they deserve,” said Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

President Donald Trump supports the effort, but aviation groups that often rely on smaller airports for business travel, recreation, pilot training and crop spraying oppose it. The effort also faces opposition in the Senate, where several key GOP senators and many Democrats oppose the plan.