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The Effect of Privatization of Air Traffic Control on General Aviation

The Effect of Privatization of Air Traffic Control on General AviationOn October 10, 2017, National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president, Martin H. Hiller, joined a panel including other general aviation (GA) association leaders to discuss the airline industry's initiative to take over the air traffic control system. Here’s an overview of what was said, and how privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system could affect the GA industry, courtesy of National Air Transportation Association.

The panel took place at the No Plane No Gain Media Kick-Off Breakfast held during the NBAA Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Las Vegas, and the focus of the discussion was H.R. 2997, legislation authored by Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.

According to NATA President Hiller:

  • “Under the bill, the corporation is completely funded by the airlines and in the eyes of the airlines, there is no difference between a 737 and a piston twin. The reality is that it’s a long-term plan where the airlines want to cost-shift. In that construct, the death of GA [General Aviation] comes not abruptly the day the bill is signed into law, but rather like dusk turning to night. Within a few years, you will no longer recognize GA in America.”
  • Hiller stated, “Let’s be honest, this proposal has been debated at least four times since the 1990s. But this time, GA stands alone and the airlines have undertaken their most serious, sustained effort to date. You have to keep educating your members, not only on the dangers the proposal poses to general aviation, but also the seriousness of the effort we are confronting.”
  • “NATA’s government affairs team and those of my colleagues are all working hard to convince members of Congress to oppose the bill. Our groups work closely in D.C. and in congressional districts, and the intermingling of our memberships has created a powerful organization. But this battle will be won only if pilots, aeronautical service providers and airports across the country let Congress know how detrimental this proposal is to the general aviation community.”
  • Hiller encourages all members of the general aviation community to continue calling or communicating with Congress using NATA’s special website or by calling 833-GAVoice (833-428-6423).

In November, Sandi Decker of the North Platte Telegraph wrote on this matter, “Proponents of air traffic control privatization want to take oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration and put it under the control of a group of private stakeholders largely influenced by the big airlines. The motivations behind this push are obvious: It’s not about modernization, as the airlines often say — it’s about control.”

Decker continued, “To start with, despite being referred to as 'privatization,’ in truth, this restructure would in no way promote free market values. This private group of stakeholders would essentially be a government-sponsored enterprise like Fannie Mae. It would have taxing authority but would be outside the oversight of Congress, and it would be unaccountable to the public. It would not be subject to any kind of competition — not even an initial bidding process. And it would add $100 billion to the national deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office."

In addition, Becker pointed out taxpayers would be on the hook for a bailout if the system became insolvent. So all of the benefits we normally associate with privatizing would simply not be realized. What this plan would do is consolidate power under the airlines. Under this kind of a system, the big airlines would call the shots when it comes to routes and access, taxes and fees and system investments. You can count on these decisions being made for the benefit of the airlines and their bottom lines. That means favoring the largest hub airports, where routes are most profitable, at the expense of local airports in places like Nebraska. The bottom line is that the large airline companies should not dictate our national air traffic control system.

The opposing viewpoint

Earlier in the year on June 5, President Trump endorsed a proposal to privatize air traffic control, thus advancing the ambitious infrastructure rebuilding plan he promised during his campaign. At that time, President Trump signed a memo and letter to Congress outlining his principles for overhauling the nation’s air traffic control system, though Democrats quickly denounced the proposal. House lawmakers who decide how much to spend on the FAA said that the plan lacks government oversight.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation that moving controllers from the government to a non-profit corporation is crucial to modernizing equipment and training.

Airlines are pushing hard for the proposal to shift controllers from ground-based radar to satellite-based GPS faster than FAA. More precise guidance of flights is expected to allow more planes in the sky, while routes are shorter and more efficient, to save fuel and reduce emissions.

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