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ATC overhaul faces new questions as Shuster declines re-election

US lawmaker and House Transportation Committee chair Bill Shuster, who has been the US airline industry's leading congressional advocate for air traffic control (ATC) privatisation, will not seek re-election in November.

The news, confirmed by Shuster's office, brings new uncertainty to the industry's years-long effort to remove ATC from the Federal Aviation Administration's purview and place it under control of an entity controlled by industry players.

"I have decided not to seek election for a tenth term," says Pennsylvania congressman Shuster in a statement. "I thought it wiser to spend my last year as chairman focusing 100% on working with President Trump and my Republican and Democratic colleagues… to pass a much needed infrastructure bill to rebuild America."

Shuster has close ties to airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) and was the driving congressional force behind the group's push to overhaul ATC.

A4A did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shuster drafted FAA funding bills in 2016 and 2017 that would have also split ATC from the FAA, creating an ATC company funded by aerospace users and managed by representatives from airlines, the private aviation industry, business aviation industry and unions.

Shuster's 2016 bill stalled, but the 2017 bill had more momentum thanks to support from newly inaugurated president Donald Trump, who publicly endorsed Shuster's plan.

Still, opposition from Democratic lawmakers, who described the bill as a gift to big airlines, persisted.

Congress shelved the 2017 bill and instead passed a bill that extended the FAA's funding for six months, raising the possibility that Congress could revisit the privatisation plan before funding expires at the end of March.

Bob Poole, director of transportation policy at nonprofit Reason Foundation, suggests Shuster may have more motivation than ever to push his ATC plan.

"Since this is potentially the ultimate achievement of Shuster’s congressional career, he will likely be motivated to get the job done while he’s there," says Poole, whose has advocated a corporate ATC model for decades.

He also thinks that Missouri congressman Sam Graves will succeed Shuster as committee chair and will continue Shuster's efforts.

"Graves… appears strongly supportive," Poole says.

But the success of ATC changes in 2018 rest largely on whether an expected infrastructure bill will include changes to ATC, Poole adds.

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