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Air Traffic Control Plan Unveiled

April 20, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation’s air traffic control system, now dependent on funding from Congress, would be able to charge fees for its services under a Clinton administration proposal unveiled Monday.

The proposal, announced by Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey, calls for undefined new fees that could trickle back to passengers either directly in the form of higher passenger taxes or indirectly through increased airfares.

One existing fee, the Passenger Facility Charge, would rise from $3 per ticket to $4 per ticket under the proposal.

Slater said the new structure, both operationally and monetarily, is needed if the air traffic control system is to keep pace with the expected increase in air passengers. Last year, some 600 million people flew through U.S. skies; in little more than a decade, that figure is projected to go over 1 billion.

``We have to be able to put in place a funding mechanism that is creative and flexible enough to allow us to meet that demand,″ Slater said during a news conference. ``We also have to put in place the kind of nimble, consumer-focused management structure that will allow us to respond in a nimble and effective fashion to the challenges at hand.″

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents the country’s 14,500 air traffic controllers, said the funding plan is necessary for the country to complete a badly needed overhaul of its air traffic system.

As for the rest of the proposal, ``We still don’t know what it all means. We can’t get any clarity, so we don’t want to comment yet,″ said NATCA President Mike McNally.

Those within the aviation community regularly note that the FAA, which oversees air travel in the United States, is subject to the funding whims of Congress. The agency has also complained that it lacks adequate funding to modernize its air traffic control system.

Under the new bill, oversight of air traffic control would shift from the FAA to a new ``performance-based organization.″ The entity would be overseen by a board and a chief operating officer, although it would still be under the Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration umbrella.

``In order that FAA expenditures match aviation demand, with this legislation the FAA’s funding and financing systems will receive a federal budget treatment that ensures that fees from aviation users and spending on aviation services are directly linked,″ Garvey said.

Neither Slater nor Garvey would explain which fees would be raised or established, saying that would be determined by an ongoing audit of FAA programs. They also could not say who would pay the bill _ the airlines or the passengers.

``We don’t know how much it’s going to cost at this point,″ Garvey said. ``We think that what we’re really trying to get at is efficiency, and efficiency, I think, always has translated into good news for consumers.″

The legislation also contains language reauthorizing the FAA through 2002. Spokesmen for the House and Senate transportation committees said that element of the bill would probably get the most immediate attention.