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House Transportation & Infrastructure chairman calls for privatizing air traffic control

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2006 file photo, passengers en route to London check in at Biarritz airport, southwestern France. U.S. and European officials will discuss Wednesday, May 17, 2017, plans to broaden a U.S. ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from Europe. (AP Photo/Bob Edme, File)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - During a hearing on Capitol Hill, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure called for the privatization of the nation’s air traffic control operations.

"Previous efforts to reform the FAA and modernize the system teach us that the only way to realize these benefits is to get the government out of the way. As President Reagan said, 'government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem,'" Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said.

The committee wants to build a new, “21st-century aviation system for America” that will improve the quality of air travel.

Shuster’s proposal would turn over air traffic control operations to a nonprofit corporation. The plan would fund the new corporation through fees assessed for air traffic services. It will also look to free operations from government dysfunction and the annual appropriations process.

President Donald Trump agrees with the chairman’s stance. He has expressed an interest in placing operations under an “independent, non-governmental organization."

Democratic members of the committee are in opposition to Shuster’s proposal. They feel if financial decisions are made by a corporation it will create hardships for air traffic controllers.

Ranking Member of the House Committee Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., suggested removing the Federal Aviation Administration from the budget altogether and paying for the program using a trust. He said this would protect the FAA from sequestration and government shutdowns.

“I do not believe that privatizing the ATO (Air Traffic Organization) is the answer,” DeFazio said.

Privatization of air traffic control has been debated for years. Internationally, nearly 60 countries have transferred their air traffic control out of government operations.

Air safety was also the topic of discussion at an international delegation in Brussels between the U.S. deputy secretary of Homeland Security and European Union officials.

“Participants provided insight into existing aviation security standards and detection capabilities as well as recent security enhancements on both sides of the Atlantic related to large electronic devices placed in checked baggage,” the delegation said in a joint statement.

The discussions were an effort to share information about potential threats facing air travel with European Union officials. Talks did not result in the widening of a U.S ban on laptops. A small ban does exist for flights from 10 cities in the Middle East.

The White House defended President Trump’s choice to share classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov regarding a potential terror threat from the Islamic State group involving the use of laptops on aircraft. European Union officials have been eager to discuss the details since news of the threat broke earlier this week.

The International Air Transport Association, representing 265 airlines, asked both the U.S. State Department and EU to oppose the ban. In its letter, the IATA claimed the change would cost airline passengers nearly $1.1 billion in lost time.

Homeland Security officials have previously met with executives from American, Delta and United to discuss expanding the ban to flights arriving from Europe.

Leaders from the delegation agreed to continue their discussion next week in Washington.

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