Members of Congress are debating an issue that will impact nearly every American and certainly those here in New Hampshire: the operation of our country’s air traffic control system.
Some Republicans in Congress are attempting to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system and turn over the world’s largest and most complex airspace to a private corporation that is not accountable to the American public. This push is spearheaded by the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. His bill, HR 4441, has successfully made its way out of committee and is soon expected to be debated on the House floor.
As an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration and member of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), I’m urging members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and the American public to stand up and oppose this dangerous and risky bill. Privatizing the air traffic control system will not make our airspace better. This scheme only takes away congressional oversight and puts our system in the control of private interests.
While privatizing the air traffic control system would no doubt have lasting effects nationwide, the impacts right here in New Hampshire, and throughout the already congested Northeast corridor, cannot be overstated. Under this new structure, the priorities of the largest commercial interests — airlines — would dictate the priorities of the entire system. Should HR 4441 become law, I believe the new corporation would no longer support many of the facilities and instruments at local airports, including Laconia, Keene and Lebanon, that FAA employees maintain. This means airports themselves would have to hire employees to manage these facilities as well as take over payment for the utilities these facilities use. Depending on how these small airports are funded, all of these costs will likely become the responsibility of the airport. This will no doubt threaten the viability of these smaller airports that so many of us rely on for service.
For example, at the Lebanon Airport, which provides daily flights to Boston and White Plains, N.Y., the FAA and the city of Lebanon split the fee to maintain the air traffic control tower. FAA employees maintain and install systems ranging from runway lighting to instrument landing systems. The FAA also covers 90 percent of capital improvements at the airport, while the city of Lebanon has been pushing for full FAA funding for years. There is a very real possibility that, under the new corporation, this smaller airport will not be considered busy or profitable enough and the tower will consequently be shut down, inconveniencing many travelers and putting further stress on the region’s larger airports. In addition, New Hampshire’s largest airport, Manchester-Boston, often a cheaper alternative to Logan International for travelers, will also be on the hook for such increased costs. This will likely result in higher ticket prices and longer delays for equipment maintenance.
In New Hampshire, our 25 public-use airports generate $1.16 billion in annual economic benefits to the state and more than 9,200 jobs. Privatization of the air traffic control system would put airports, jobs and the livelihood of many New Hampshire families on the chopping block. This is a risk we simply cannot afford.
As an employee of the FAA, I am proud of the work I do. The United States stands at the forefront of the aviation world, maintaining the safest and most complex airspace in the world. Our country’s air traffic control system is an important and extremely valuable public asset that is critical to our nation’s economy from the larger airports to the smaller, local airports we use on a daily basis in New Hampshire. Spinning off air traffic control functions from the rest of the FAA introduces uncertainty into the system and puts the focus on corporate concerns rather than safe and efficient air travel.
It is unclear who’s best interests are really being served by handing over responsibility for our country’s airspace to a private corporation, but it’s definitely not that of the American people.
Lynda Bloomberg is executive vice president of New England Region for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists and chairs the PASS Region 1 Legislative Committee.