Business aviation hopes for US air traffic control delays
Thousands of people have been watching worrying developments involving President Donald Trump in Washington this week. Many are rightly concerned by what they have heard. People across the US stopped work and watched the livestream video. I am, of course, talking about the Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative that President Trump announced on Tuesday.
President Trump wants to privatise air traffic control. He would move oversight from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a non-profit organization.
“The FAA has been trying to upgrade our nation’s air traffic control system for a long period of years,” said the President. “But after billions and billions of tax dollars spent and the many years of delays, we are still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work.” He then joked: “Other than that, it’s quite good.”
President Trump added: “The previous administration spent over $7 billion trying to upgrade the system, and totally failed. Honestly, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. A total waste of money – $7 billion-plus-plus.”
Many airlines love the plan – although it is worth noting that some including Delta do not support it.
In business aviation there is a consensus that it is a bad idea.
More than 15 associations (there should be an association for associations) including the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, National Air Transportation Association and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) wrote a joint letter highlighting the risks after Trump’s announcement.
The President argues that other countries including Canada, New Zealand, Australia and many European states have successfully privatised their systems. “Other systems are very good. I won’t tell you the names of the country, but we have studied numerous countries, one in particular – they have a very, very good system,” said Trump. “Ours is going to top it by a lot.”
The associations argue that the US already has the best air traffic system in the world.
“It is worth noting that the majority of all general aviation in the world today takes place in the US and we appreciate your support for our industry. Simply put, general aviation in America is the envy of the world,” said their letter to the president.
“Today, the US air traffic control system is the best in the world, moving more aircraft, more safely and efficiently, than any other country. Working with Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration, aviation stakeholders have been able to ensure that our system operates for the public benefit, providing access for all stakeholders to airports, heliports and airspace, and encouraging competition and innovation,” said the letter.
General aircraft owners are concerned that airlines will not support infrastructure outside main airports and flight routes.
“We are deeply concerned with the president’s call for ATC privatization – a concept that has long been a goal of the big airlines. No one should confuse ATC modernization with ATC privatization – the two are very different concepts,” said Ed Bolen, president of NBAA.
“Unfortunately, the recent discussion about privatization is really about the airlines’ push to gain more control over our air traffic control system, so that they can run it for their own benefit, and is a sideshow to a serious and constructive discussion about building on the progress currently underway on NextGen,” said Bolen. “We are concerned that those left behind under ATC privatization would be the citizens, companies and communities that rely on general aviation for all manner of services.”
Although the president is a keen user of business aviation, he did also own an airline between 1989 and 1992.
In a meeting with airline executives in February, President Trump said that he had consulted his own pilots. “I have a pilot who’s a real expert, and he said ‘[the FAA] is instituting a massive, multi-billion-dollar project, but they’re using the wrong equipment.”
If you watch the video of the announcement to the end you might think that the President is signing an executive order making this happen. He is not. In fact he sent a memo down to Congress. There is still time for this to be stopped. Air traffic control delays are not always bad.