Energy

Trump’s Air Traffic Privatization Plan Left Out Key Congressman’s Girlfriend

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Legislation pushed by a top GOP congressman to turn the U.S. air traffic control system over to a public-private partnership likely won’t benefit the lobbying group employing his girlfriend.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is stripping language from air traffic control privatization legislation that would have given partial control of the non-profit’s board to the lobbying group Airlines for America (AFA), which employs his girlfriend, Shelley Rubino.

The new plan will allow airlines to pick board seats directly, instead of relying on AFA.

“The fact that Shuster’s new plan allows airlines, instead of his girlfriend’s trade association, to pick board seats for airlines is a huge victory for the aviation industry as a whole,” an airline industry source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Previous versions of Shuster’s bill gave partial control of the air traffic non-profit’s board to AFA.

Trump’s original outline of the plan to relinquish federal control of air traffic to a non-profit entity, laid out the specifics of the plan using language favorable to AFA. It used language that made AFA the only trade group eligible to pick board seats for the non-profit, the airline industry source previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

AFA is a powerful industry lobbying group with members that include United Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, U.S. Airways, Federal Express Corporation, United Parcel Service Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. The only U.S. airline that is not part of AFA is Delta.

Politico outed the relationship between Shuster and Rubino in April 2015, but the Congressman claims his girlfriend did not lobby his office on his air traffic control legislation. However, he did not recuse himself from drafting the bill.

Shuster proposed legislation in 2016 to transfer management of U.S. air traffic control assets to a non-profit corporation that served as the model for Trump’s own privatization plan. The 2016 bill would have given “the principal organization representing mainline air carriers” control of four out of eleven, or 36 percent, of seats on the board. This means that AFA would have been able to pick those four board members.

Partial control of the airline board would give AFA a say in how billions of dollars are spent and how revenue is raised. The Air Traffic Organization’s annual budget was nearly $7.4 billion in 2015.

Shuster received $284,399 from the airline industry in the 2015-2016 cycle, making it his top donor according to OpenSecrets.org.

Despite the change diverting control of ATC away from Shuster’s girlfriend, many in the aviation industry still aren’t happy about the Trump administration’s plans to privatize air traffic control.

”Decisions related to air traffic control should not be made by a private board whose members could use their power to raise taxes and increase already endless fees on passengers, block out competitors from new markets, disregard customers even more and leave them with no recourse, and divert resources into areas that only benefit the biggest commercial carriers, which is the airlines’ long-standing goal,” Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA), which represents small airports and regional aviation, said in a Thursday press release.

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