Is ATC privatization on the horizon?
March 1, 2018
It didn't take long after Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk in 1903 for humankind to believe we could, indeed, fly. The rate at which aviation grew over the next 20 years, accompanied by related confusion and mishaps, made it painfully clear the industry required oversight to establish order and safety standards. President Calvin Coolidge stepped up to the plate in 1926 by signing the Air Commerce Act into law, thereby establishing the foundations of government regulation over aviation.
With further development and establishment of additional needs which evolved over time, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act into law in 1958, giving birth to the Federal Aviation Agency, repealing previous law for a more comprehensive Federal role in fostering and regulating civil aeronautics and air commerce.
In 1967, the FAA joined the Department of Transportation with a mission "to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world," (FAA Website) at which time that entity became the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which remains in effect to this day.
This foundational structure of aviation regulation, built and evolved over the past 60 years, is now under serious threat of being shaken to its very core. On June 22, 2017 New York GOP Representative Bill Shuster, introduced HR 2997 to the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee with the intent to form a non-government, private non-profit agency to oversee air traffic control. A proponent of the privatization model, President Donald Trump announced a plan to separate air traffic control from the FAA by operating on fees paid by airlines and other users of U.S. airspace.
Trump boasted, "We are prepared to enter a great new era in American aviation. It's time to join the future and make flights quicker, safer, more reliable." Trump argues FAA is too "antiquated" to innovate. (Fox News 6/5/2017) Adding to the stress of the situation is the fact that FAA's funding authority is set to expire March 31.
In less time than it takes for a troubled aircraft to fall from the sky, opposition to the HR 2997 was established and has been growing ever since. Articles, editorials, and feature stories have appeared in publications around the nation denouncing privatization of air traffic control.
In answer to inquiries made by the Minnesota Flyer, the following comments were made by several Minnesota aviation organizations.
What is your thought on Donald Trump's statement that the FAA's ATC system is too "antiquated" and unable to keep pace with the fast-changing aviation industry?
A: Tim Cossalter, Executive Director, Minnesota Business Aviation Association: Our ATC system is the largest, most complex system in the world-and the safest and most efficient system in the world. Everyone agrees on the need to modernize our ATC system.
The FAA's NextGen program continues to make progress as key platforms are either fully deployed or in the process of deployment. Increasing investment in ATC modernization will expedite the benefits for all users of the system including general aviation, airlines and the American public. Highly respected, non-partisan sources have questioned the ATC privatization proposal.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concluded that privatizing ATC could delay air traffic control modernization. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the FAA Privatization proposal in the House FAA Reauthorization bill (HR 2997) would add nearly $100 billion to the nation's deficit and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggested that this proposal is unconstitutional.
Obtaining industry consensus and bi-partisan Congressional support to advance our nation's ATC modernization program is vital to the success of this effort. Efforts to privatize the ATC system as proposed in HR 2997 only serves as an unfortunate distraction to ATC modernization.
A: Cassandra Isackson, Director, MnDOT Aeronautics: The aviation system is complex. Maintaining safety while modernizing technology is everyone's first priority. The work of NEXTGEN continues, although consistent, long-term funding has been a challenge. As of this response, FAA's current authorization is set to expire in March. The last decade has seen recurring, short-term funding solutions, that has made it difficult for all levels of government to plan, design, and construct aviation infrastructure.
A: Randy Corfman, President, Minnesota Pilots Association: I disagree with the criticism that our ATC system is antiquated. While we need to continuously look for ways to improve any system, it is my feeling that we have the most efficient ATC system in the world.
Q: What are the potential drawbacks of ATC privatization?
A: Tim Cossalter, Executive Director, Minnesota Business Aviation Association: HR 2997, the pending House FAA Reauthorization bill would remove the nation's air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration and necessary Congressional oversight and would turn over ATC operations; taxing authority; financial and resource allocation and airspace access to a self-interested corporation which will be dominated by the airlines and will adversely affect general aviation, mid-sized and smaller communities and airports.
All Americans and aviation stakeholders deserve equal and fair access to our nation's airspace. Concerns over this proposal have been raised by more than 200 general aviation organizations, mayors, airports, conservative groups, unions, businesses, consumer groups and countless Americans worried about the future of our nation's ATC system.
A: Cassandra Isackson, Director, MnDOT Aeronautics: We continue to hear concerns regarding the funding mechanism for privatization and how users of the system will be able to influence the choices that impact them. Today, users can go their elected officials if they have concerns regarding FAA's management of the nation's airspace. At the state level, we are uncertain how privatization would affect state-owned navigational aids. There are several lines of business within FAA that have approval and oversight roles with new aviation infrastructure – regardless of who owns it. How a state, like Minnesota that owns lots of NavAids would work with a private entity on these issues is unclear.
A: Randy Corfman, President, Minnesota Pilots Association: It is our concern that privatization will weaken access of general aviation to many parts of our national airspace. Further, we will not have a significant "place at the table" with the proposals that have been put forth. Our voice will be weaker, and the voice of the big air carriers will likely predominate.
Q: What can individuals do to fight HR 2997, the bill in the U.S. House that would remove the nation's air traffic control system from the FAA?
A: Tim Cossalter, Executive Director, Minnesota Business Aviation Association: There are a variety of advocacy efforts that can be used to oppose this ill-conceived and risky legislative proposal.
We urge the general aviation community and others to utilize the http://www.atcnotforsale.com website to obtain more information on HR 2997 and take action to contact Members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation to express opposition to this ATC privatization proposal.
A: Cassandra Isackson, Director, MnDOT Aeronautics: Individuals positions on ATC privatization is entirely up to them. We always encourage users of the aviation system to learn about aviation policy at the state and federal level so that, one, they are informed consumers, and two, they can explain to their elected officials impacts that policies have on their private and business lives.
A: Randy Corfman President, Minnesota Pilots Association: We urge our members to contact their Congressmen and voice their opposition to HR 2997. Do it by phone; do it by letter; do it by email.