Privatising American ATC Is Not Good Greatness
A New Foundation For American Greatness (ANFFAG) the first budget from The Trump Administration is attracting a lot of debate. For aviation, the biggest announcement is a plan to privatise air traffic control. Most airlines love the idea. Business and general aviation associations are very concerned.
“To accommodate growing air traffic volume and meet the demands of aviation users, the Administration proposes to shift the air traffic control functions to a non-profit, non-governmental entity,” says the budget. ANFFAG also cuts $135 million from the FAA’s annual budget starting in October.
The budget says that air traffic privatisation has worked in other countries and that the Federal Aviation Administration would continue to be responsible for regulations and safety.
“This transformative undertaking will create an innovative corporation that can more nimbly respond to the demand for air traffic services, all while reducing taxes and Government spending,” says the budget. It is aiming for privatisation to happen by 2021.
The plan has been welcomed by airline lobbying groups like Airlines for America. “The president’s leadership on air traffic control reform will ultimately reduce federal spending, shrink the size of the federal government and reduce taxes for passengers,” said the association.
Airlines for America believes that a privatised air traffic control system with a board comprised of airlines, would work better than the FAA continuing to have oversight. (Although it is worth noting that Delta Air Lines does not agree.)
This enthusiasm from airlines does not mean that the proposal is good news for business aviation.
Although the two industries often work together, airlines have very different priorities. There are scheduled flights to some 500 cities in the US. Business aircraft land at more than 5000 towns every week. There is a real concern that a board run by airlines would not care about general aviation.
“We all know that the ability to have access to airports and air traffic is vital for the US economy,” said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association in an interview last month. “Historically representatives from large urban areas and small rural areas have worked together. At the moment elected representatives control air traffic control and there are real concerns that it could be turned over to a board that is skewed towards airlines.”
Several lawmakers have already stated their objections to it.
“Why on Earth would we spend billions of taxpayer dollars to fix an air traffic control system that is not broken and is safe,” said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida democrat and a member of the Senate transportation committee in an interview with USA Today. In the same article Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also drew attention to the number of computer outages that airlines have had. “Splitting this agency in half does not make sense to me,” said DeFazio.
A recent poll found the majority of voters oppose privatising ATC by two-to-one.
There is a lot of opposition to many aspects of the budget. As with all of it there is no guarantee that privatisation will happen. NBAA, the General Aircraft Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and other associations have already been warning against privatisation for a number of years. But this is a worrying development.
“Everyone involved in business aviation should be concerned about it. The US has by any definition the largest, the safest and the most diverse air transport system in the world,” says Bolen. “We have a lot to lose.”
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