WASHINGTON — Several lawmakers questioned Tuesday whether to move air-traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private corporation, after recent airline debacles.
The comments came at a House Transportation Committee hearing about customer service, after United Airlines dragged a passenger off a flight April 9 to make room for a crew member.
Lawmakers also argued that occasional computer problems at multiple airlines force the cancellation of thousands of flights, for lack of technological investment by airlines.
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“I think the airline industry needs to focus on getting its own house in order, instead of extending its reach to control our skies,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the panel.
The committee approved a bill last year to privatize air-traffic control as a way to provide more stable funding than FAA, which has unpredictable annual appropriations from Congress.
But neither the full House nor the Senate debated the measure. Congress expects a full debate this year because FAA policy legislation must be renewed by Sept. 30.
Airlines are strong advocates for the change to modernize equipment and routes for faster, more efficient flights allowed by more precise tracking. A private group could sell bonds to modernize equipment, which airlines say would allow an upgrade from ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS technology more quickly.
President Trump has supported the general idea as part of his budget blueprint.
But skeptics have questioned giving airlines a larger voice in how flights are guided, through seats on the private board. Groups representing business jets and general-aviation pilots worry that they will shoulder a bigger share of costs of the new system.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said the change would hand billions of dollars’ worth of federal equipment and property over to the private company while leaving travelers in the lurch. She questioned how customers could keep an eye on routing, scheduling and investments in technology under a private company.
“What guarantee does the customer have that you’ll do any better job at that than you’re doing now with just getting them on the plane or dragging them off?” Titus asked.
United President Scott…