Why Air Traffic Controllers Are Open To A Privatization Strategy
May 4, 2015
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  • With government funding for the Federal Aviation Administration set to expire October 1, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is indicating an openness to a plan that would privatize some aspects of air traffic control and minimize the impact of the unpredictable federal budgeting process on the agency’s ability to operate.

    In an ongoing effort by Republican members of Congress to de-federalize the FAA, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) has introduced legislation in the House to privatize some national air traffic control functions. The plan would establish a private organization, the Employee Stock Ownership Corporation, which, Mica’s office says, would put the airport industry’s various stakeholders in charge of the new air traffic control system.

    “We’ve tried reform and reorganization, and we’ve created positions like the chief operating officer within the Air Traffic Organization, but unfortunately, our ATC technology and working conditions for air traffic controllers continue to fall further behind the rest of the world,” said Mica, a former chairman of the House Transportation Committee, when his proposal was released in April.

    NATCA is open to discussing a shake-up of the status quo—as long as the federal agency’s own needs are met first. And while willing to consider some changes to national air traffic control operations, the association isn’t advocating for full privatization. Rather, it’s using this proposed legislation to highlight the importance of funding a system in critical need of financial support.

    “I’m willing to have those conversations and move forward on it, as long as we find a stable, predictable funding stream,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in a speech to the Aero Club of Washington. “We will fight, and oppose, any model that strives to make a profit from air traffic control services.”

    The opportunity for renewed FAA funding marks a pivotal juncture for NATCA’s 20,000 members.

    “For years, the FAA has been faced with unstable, unpredictable funding where interruptions in the funding stream have negatively affected all aspects of the FAA,” Rinaldi told the panelat a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing in March, according to The Hill. “The agency has had to spread its resources thinly between fully staffing a 24/7 operation, as well as the modernization and daily maintenance required to sustain an aging infrastructure.”

    In their push to remove air traffic control from the federal government’s domain, supporters of the private-sector model are in effect advocating for a structural overhaul of this critical service. But Rinaldi is redirecting the conversation to focus on the heart of the problem: securing reliable funding for the FAA.

    “We understand that addressing funding makes a lot of people go toward the structure of the FAA,” Rinaldi said in his speech to the Aero Club. “But we must agree that funding—a secure, stable funding system—is the first thing that must be agreed to.”