National Trade Groups Say White House’s Air Traffic Control Privatization Budget Bad News For Small & Mid-Size Towns

Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 201 Issue

WASHINGTON, DC – National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen strongly opposes the Trump Administration’s budget released March 16, 2017, which appears to endorse privatizing the nation’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) system, noting that such a move could adversely affect, among others, countless small and mid-size communities across the country, which rely on general aviation.

“We know that the notion of privatizing ATC has for decades been pushed by large airlines,” Bolen said. “Under such a proposal, the ATC system – which is a natural monopoly that currently serves the public’s interest, and is overseen by the public’s elected representatives – would be turned over to a non-governmental entity effectively controlled by the airlines.

“Under such a scenario, the small and mid-size towns that rely on access to general aviation for everything from civil services, to emergency support, to business access and more, could have their access to airports and airspace threatened,” Bolen continued. “This is among the many important reasons NBAA has long been very concerned over the big airlines’ proposal. Simply put, privatization of the ATC system would benefit commercial airlines at the expense of the citizens, companies and communities that rely on general aviation.

“We continue to welcome the renewed focus in Washington on infrastructure investment, including for aviation,” Bolen added. “We will keep working with Congress, not on a distracting debate over ATC privatization, but on truly modernizing the aviation system, with policies that offer targeted solutions to identified challenges. That’s the best way to ensure that all Americans have access to our nation’s critical aviation infrastructure, 5, 10 and 25 years from now.”

The idea of privatizing ATC has been put forward as part of the continuing congressional debate over the reauthorization of funding and programs for the Federal Aviation Administration. The concept has been strongly opposed by a diverse group of conservative and liberal think tanks, consumer groups, rural organizations, general aviation associations, federal and local policymakers, and a majority of American citizens. The budget proposal released by the president is the administration’s blueprint for federal spending in the coming fiscal year, but Congress has the ultimate authority on the budget, and will reflect its direction regarding aviation, and other matters related to the nation’s infrastructure (www.nbaa.org).

The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOA) weighed in on the issue of privatization as well, stating that the White House proposal would shift the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent, non-government organization. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the proposal is “going nowhere in the Senate.”

“The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) will review the details of the president’s proposal when they are made available,” said AOPA President Mark Baker, “and we will continue to oppose efforts to impose user fees on any segment of general aviation.”

Likewise, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) stated that many of the challenges with this type of air traffic control reform proposal have been thoughtfully outlined in recent letters by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and the leaders of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. GAMA agrees with Transportation Secretary Chao and Senators Klobuchar and Moran that before any action is taken, there needs to be a dialogue among all stakeholders, including civil and defense users of the National Airspace System, to achieve national consensus on any potential changes to the U.S. air traffic control system. We need to be certain that as we try to solve specific problems, we do not create others.

National Aviation Organizations Weigh In On User Fees & ATC Privatization Proposal

With the need to authorize the Federal Aviation Administration before September 30 of this year, a host of general aviation association leaders joined together March 21, 2017, to send letters to House and Senate transportation leaders underscoring “real and long-standing concerns” regarding a concept being pushed by some big airlines regarding air traffic control. Specifically, the organizations cited concerns over a proposal promoted by some big airlines for the creation of a new governance and funding model for our nation’s aviation system, based on systems in other parts of the world.

“The general aviation community has very real and long-standing concerns, which include but are not limited to user fees,” the letter states. “These concerns are based on our operating experiences in these foreign systems and the impact they have had on general aviation.”

The letters were signed by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Air Care Alliance, Aircraft Electronics Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Citation Jet Pilots, Commemorative Air Force, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, International Council of Air Shows, National Agricultural Aviation Association, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Air Transportation Association, National Business Aviation Association, Recreational Aviation Foundation, U.S. Parachute Association and Veterans Airlift.

The letters were sent to House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), T&I Aviation Subcommittee Chair Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey), and Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-Washington), as well as Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida), and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington).

These letters support the concerns expressed by EAA CEO and Chairman Jack Pelton, responding to news that the White House included an endorsement of privatizing air traffic control services in its budget proposal.

“Under such a system, ATC would be overseen and managed by a board made up of commercial interests, with the nation’s airlines having the most powerful and numerous voices,” Pelton said. “These interests would inevitably drown out whatever token representation and economic impact GA would have on such a board, creating an ATC system that would serve commercial interests with the greatest financial resources.”

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