UTC Backs Aviation System Upgrade While Sidestepping Fight Over Privatizing

United Technologies Corp. is backing federal legislation to modernize the U.S. aviation system as it sidesteps one of the measure’s more contentious issues that would privatize the nation’s flight control system.

The Farmington-based conglomerate that makes commercial and military jet engines and aerospace parts and components has lobbied for the legislation, which funds and provides direction to the Federal Aviation Administration, simply to get it passed, said Cindy Jimenez, senior director of government relations at UTC.

“For us we just want to see something,” she said. “We want to see a bill. We really want Congress to come together and agree on this big FAA bill.”

The measure calls for airport equipment to be updated to satellite-based from radar and includes many other provisions. But a portion of the legislation that would transfer operation of air traffic services now performed by the FAA to a not-for-profit organization has drawn opposition from Democrats, a business aviation group and others.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5, voted against the bill as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She said she favored most of the legislation, but drew the line on privatization.

The measure is being held hostage to “one contentious provision,” Esty said. “We could have it tomorrow.”

Esty called airlines “laggards” for failing to make necessary investments in equipment.

“I’m not in favor of shifting over to taxpayers the costs on their side of the ledger,” she said.

Loren B. Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank, said critics believe the federal aviation system is seen as inefficient and that few improvements are being made. One example he cited is the amount of time too often needed by planes that, due to outdated technology, are lined up waiting for takeoff.

“There is a great deal of frustration on Capitol Hill about how long it has taken the FAA to make progress in modernizing the air traffic control system,” he said. “There are backups and kinks that can be resolved by new technology,” he said.

The legislation is less about relying more on the marketplace than getting the government to “move on fairly antiquated air traffic systems,” Thompson said.

The National Business Aviation Association, an advocacy organization, opposes the measure, saying that U.S. “airspace belongs to the public and should be run for the public’s benefit, not a few special interests.”

The legislation “seeks to effectively hand over control of our nation’s air traffic system to the airlines and special interests,” said the head of the aviation group and officials of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association and General Aviation Manufacturers Association and other groups.

Alan Clendenin, a retired air traffic controller, wrote to UTC Chief Executive Officer Greg Hayes, urging the conglomerate to push for passage of the bill. He cited UTC’s work on energy efficiency, saying modernizing airports will cut carbon emissions and fuel consumption.

“It’s time for United Technologies and NBAA to step aside and clear the way for reforms that will lead to a modernized aviation infrastructure,” Clendenin wrote to Hayes.

John Thackrah, Pratt & Whitney’s vice president of Washington operations, said UTC’s lobbying on the legislation is not related to air traffic control privatization “because it’s very divisive.”

“We don’t have any skin in the game on air traffic control privatization,” he said.

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