The Democrats' takeover of the US Congress all but assures the death of ambitious proposals for a user fee system to finance FAA air traffic control.

The Democratic victory in the early November mid-term elections means the House Transportation Committee and its aviation panel, currently controlled by the Republicans, will have a much different composition from January. The prospective committee chair is Jim Oberstar, who has already given a cold reception to the air traffic financing proposal the major carriers favour.

Saying the aviation system is "not a cash register in the sky", Oberstar denounced the quasi-governmental corporation proposed by the Air Transport Association (ATA), calling it "a bad idea". Because the basic FAA financing law expires in 2007, the user fees proposal is bound to come up in the debate over renewal legislation.

Oberstar and the expected chair of his aviation panel, Jerry Costello, are likely to give a warm welcome to airline labour and to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a staunch opponent of the corporation proposal.

Senate committee assignments are less certain but power is likely to gravitate to strong supporters of federal subsidies for rural aviation and small airports, including West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller. Next in line after Rockefeller is Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, another rural state.

Oberstar's three decades of aviation and transportation experience will make him the "go-to" man on Capitol Hill for airlines and airports. Oberstar has long been called "the chairman in waiting" or "honorary chairman", having been poised to take over the Transportation Committee after then-chairman Norman Mineta left in 1994 - when a Republican takeover pushed him into the minority.


Source: Airline Business