By Mayors Joe Gunter, John Manchester, James C. Neilsen IV, Tari Renner and Steve Thorson
A recent editorial in The Hill’s Contributors blog (Recent FAA reauthorization was without debate or reform, Oct. 15) unfortunately glazed over some very important points.
First, as your article notes, as part of this debate this year about reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), some in Congress are proposing some very extensive changes to our air transportation system that will affect businesses, consumers, communities and the American people as a whole. Given that this funding was due to expire on Sept. 30, the U.S. House and Senate reauthorized a six-month extension of this funding to allow time for further debate.
This is a good thing, as we need to ensure the ongoing funding of the operations of our air transportation system. We also need to seriously question any huge, transformational changes to this system, especially when there are some very big questions about how such proposals would impact communities of all sizes around the country.
For example, proposals to privatize our air traffic control system would take this oversight of our system and put it in the hands of a private board that would be influenced and controlled by the biggest commercial airline interests. Currently, Congress and the FAA help to ensure that our nation’s air transportation system and air traffic control remains a public benefit that serves communities of all sizes in our country. If the commercial airlines are basically governing themselves, how would consumers and communities have recourse to follow up on noise, airport expansion or closures, or funding issues if they cannot go to their members of Congress?
Most importantly, what would happen to air access to smaller cities and towns in a privatized system? Currently, there are over 5,000 small towns in the U.S. that currently do not have access to commercial air service. What about programs like Essential Air Service? What happens if businesses with their own aircraft cannot fly to certain airports to visit customers? Or if the airlines, that would control the air traffic control system, can prioritize their own flights, profits and biggest airports that they utilize? The airlines have already cut their routes to smaller cities by over 14 percent in the last 7 years alone.
Right now, there are a lot of questions and calls for huge, sweeping reform and not a lot of answers. On behalf of communities around this country, we need to think long and hard about this type of change to our air transportation system and the impact on communities large and small around our nation.
Gunter is mayor of Salinas, California; Manchester is mayor of Lewisburg, West Virginia; Neilsen is mayor of Claremont, New Hampshire; Renner is mayor of Bloomington, Illinois; and Thorson is mayor of Watertown, South Dakota.