Last updated: 02:17 PM ET, Thu February 04 2016

Debate Rages Over Privatized Air Traffic Control

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | February 04, 2016

Debate Rages Over Privatized Air Traffic Control

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The nation’s air traffic control system would be removed from the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration and its management privatized under legislation proposed by U.S.  House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) – a move that has drawn criticism and support from various aviation industry stakeholders.

The proposal is the main part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill.

Under Shuster’s plan, a private, not-for-profit company would run the nation’s air traffic control (ATC).

“We have the safest air traffic control system in the world, and we will continue to do so under this bill,” Shuster said in a statement. “But our system is incredibly inefficient, and it will only get worse as passenger levels grow and as the FAA falls further behind in modernizing the system … Establishing an independent ATC provider has become the standard across the world, and the United States is one of the last industrialized nations yet to do so. Countries that have done so have consistently benefited from safety levels that have been maintained or improved, successful modernization of their ATC systems, improved ATC services, and generally lower ATC service costs.”

Airlines For America, the industry trade organization, agreed.

“A more efficient system with proper governance, funding and accountability will bolster our nation’s first-rate safety record and result in more choice, more direct trips, lower fuel consumption, reduced emissions and fewer flight delays,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement. “We share Chairman Shuster’s goal of seeing more air traffic controllers hired, making our system even safer, and most importantly, making flying better – and at no additional cost – for the traveling public.”

READ MORE: Who Should Run America's Air Traffic Control System?

But the Alliance for Aviation Across America disagreed, voicing its concerns about a private company having control over such decisions as gate assignments to new taxes and fees.

Local businesses and officials from rural communities in particular have raised concerns about any proposals to take away Congressional oversight of the air traffic control system. In response, Mayor John Manchester of Lewisburg, West Virginia; Mayor Joe Gunter of Salinas, California; Mayor Stephen Gallihar of Sedalia, Missouri; Mayor Rita Albrecht of Bemidji, Minnesota; Mayor Steve Williams of Huntington, West Virginia; and Mayor Jerry Toomey of Mitchell, South Dakota issued the following statement:

“We are opposed to any proposal which would take away Congressional oversight over our air traffic control system.  In a privatized system dominated by commercial interests, consumers and smaller communities would come last – these are citizens who have already faced record fees, cuts to air service by 20 percent, and are getting crammed into smaller and smaller seat spaces. In addition, sectors such as general aviation support jobs, business, agriculture, charitable activity, law enforcement and medical services will be negatively impacted by this proposal. Congressional oversight of the aviation system is necessary to ensure that our air transportation system remains a public benefit and serves communities of all sizes.”

The U.S. Travel Association said the proposed bill makes significant strides towards achieving “transformational” reform of America’s aviation system, but falls short by ignoring an essential component: airports.

“Air traffic control reform is a laudable aim, but it’s just not enough,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, in a statement. “For the past three years, the travel industry has made a substantive case for modernizing airports and restoring airline competition, but we remain concerned that these issues have not been adequately addressed.

"Further, the bill needs to recognize the critical role hub airports play in our air transportation system and the need to use Passenger Facility Charge revenue to fund projects that improve safety, increase capacity and efficiency, promote competition and address environmental impacts. To prosper in a global economy, America needs not only an efficient air traffic system, but better connectivity and affordable options for passengers. That cannot be accomplished without improved infrastructure at our nation’s airports.” 

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