US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called on aviation stakeholders to re-examine the pros and cons of air traffic control (ATC) modernization. However, he stopped short of directly calling to spin off ATC from the FAA, telling a March 7 gathering of airport executive in Washington DC that he would use his role as chairman of the newly expanded Subcommittee on Aviation and Space to conduct hearings on the issue.

“ATC modernization can reduce the size of the federal government and at the same time benefit the environment, reduce emissions, save costs, save time and improve safety. It’s supported by both unionized workers and free market advocates, and there are not main policy areas where you see that kind of intersection,” Cruz said.

“There have been concerns raised in the past, particularly in the world of general aviation, but I believe it’s possible and indeed essential for stakeholders to come together and find common ground ... and indeed the experience of other countries that have gone down this road previously underscores the potential benefits the US has in front of us.”

Cruz also warned about a “gallop to proposing radical policies that could dramatically harm the aviation industry,” saying that calls to undermine air travel in House Democrats’ Green New Deal resolution could cause “most, if not all, of the $2.5 trillion in annual US economic activity directly or indirectly attributable to aviation to disappear.”

“Until high-speed rail manages to go transpacific or transatlantic, I suspect we’re going to continue to have need for airspace. On the other hand, if the desire is to reduce emissions, there are ways to do so far more effectively than having government mandates, the most promising of which I believe is ATC modernization.”

House Transportation & Infrastructure committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), in remarks at the same gathering, reiterated his call for Congress to increase the cap on Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) fees, telling the airport executives he wants them to produce documentation of their unmet needs, projected needs, potential income and income streams to help him make the case for a fee hike to skeptical members.

“I think the real issue is the airlines are worried about gates that they might not control, instead of the absolute price elasticity...raising the PFC one dollar will not cause everyone to stop flying,” DeFazio said. “We need more gates, and that might mean new entrants, and it might also mean more competition, which would benefit the flying public.”

House Transportation Committee ranking member Sam Graves (R-Missouri), in his own remarks, blamed the 1,500-hr. flight rule requirement for first officers for exacerbating the ongoing shortage of commercial pilots, saying discussion about the requirement had “become an emotional argument in Congress.”

“[Colgan Air flight 3407] wouldn’t have occurred if we had better qualified pilots, but the fact of the matter is 1,500 hrs. wouldn’t have had any impact whatsoever on that crash. So, what do we have now? We have students who get all their ratings and then have to bill time, so they go out and turn circles in the sky,” Graves said.

“I want somebody in the right seat of that aircraft learning from a very experienced captain or an individual in the left seat and training right there. I do not want somebody who is going up there and turning circles and just billing time because that’s not good training.”

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com