ATM Modernization

36 US Groups Unite in Opposing ATC Privatization

By James T. McKenna | July 3, 2017
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Kevin Griffith, 4th Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller, monitors airspace surrounding the base from the air traffic control tower March 9, 2015, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Tower personnel monitoring airspace are responsible for an area approximately five miles wide and a half-mile high.. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Aaron J. Jenne)

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron J. Jenne

The debate over proposals to restructure U.S. air traffic control is heating up with the onset of the American summer.

On the eve of the July 4 Independence Day holiday — the traditional start of the U.S. summer holidays and their related increase in air travel of all sorts — 36 aviation groups declared their united opposition to a proposal to place the FAA’s air traffic operation in private hands.

“While we enjoy the safest most efficient air traffic control system in the world,” the groups said in a written statement issued July 3, “we also believe that reforms, short of privatization, can better address the FAA’s need to improve its ability to modernize our system.”

Those needs include meeting the FAA’s mandate to equip the general aviation fleet with ADS-B technology by 2020, the subject of an Avionics and Rotor & Wing International webinar July 13.

The groups include the National Business Aviation Assn. (NBAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Assn. (GAMA), the Aircraft Electronics Assn. (AEA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. (AOPA).

“We are ready and willing to work with all industry stakeholders and Congress to advance the consensus needed to improve our current system,” they said, “and to ensure that our nation’s air traffic control system remains the envy of the world.”

They said their opposition was based on “a thorough and detailed review” of a proposal by Rep. Bill Shuster.

A Pennsylvania Republican, Shuster chairs the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. For many years, he has championed turning over ATC operations to a private corporation. His latest attempt is incorporated in “reauthorization” legislation, H.R. 2997, approved by that committee June 27 and forwarded for the full House’s consideration.

Shuster and fellow advocates argue that privatization will enable more efficient upgrades to and operation of the U.S. ATC system, including reduced delays for passengers and lower fuel burn for aircraft operator.

Opponents claim, among other things, that Congress for most of the last decade has hobbled ATC operations and modernization by failing to provide steady funding of those activities. Shuster acknowledges the point. From 2006 to 2012, Congress passed 42 continuing resolutions and 23 short-term extensions for the FAA. It passed a three-year FAA authorization bill in 2012. The agency has been surviving on funding extensions since that law expired in late 2015.

Privatization has been back by many U.S. airlines, Delta Air Lines being one exception. The privatization push gained the backing of President Donald Trump in early June. But the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s own version of the FAA reauthorization bill, passed June 29, and included no mention of ATC privatization.

The host of aviation groups isn’t relying alone on opposition in the Senate.

In a joint statement today, the groups said Shuster’s latest bill (named the 21st Century Aviation, Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization, or AIRR, Act) “will produce uncertainty and unintended consequences without achieving the desired outcomes.”

They said, “In addition, the billions of dollars and time that would be spent transitioning our nation’s air traffic control system to a not-for-profit entity can be better applied to the continuing progress to update and modernize our air traffic control system.”

The groups, which include 32 smaller associations, stressed the contributions of general aviation to the American economy, saying the industry “generates over $219 billion in total economic output, supports 1.1 million jobs” and has “a network of thousands of airports and heliports that connect many rural communities to the rest of the world.”

Citing “strong bipartisan opposition in both the House and Senate” to privatization, the group’s said, “we believe efforts should focus on developing a long-term FAA reauthorization that creates the stability and funding necessary and that can reach the president’s desk for signature.”

They committed to “addressing needed reforms that create predictable and stable funding for the FAA including biennial budgeting, consolidating unneeded and outdated facilities, procurement, and certification reforms.”

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