Your recent column (“Political Winds Shouldn’t Delay Air Travelers,” 7/1, by Drew Johnson) unfortunately missed some important points about proposals under consideration in Washington, D.C., for privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system.
First and foremost, as much as proponents try to conflate privatization with ATC modernization, the two issues are not the same. Everyone agrees that ATC needs to be modernized with the latest satellite-based “NextGen” technology. To achieve that goal, the U.S. Senate recently passed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation that would support funding for the continued deployment of NextGen technologies.
Unfortunately, progress on ATC modernization, of the kind represented by the Senate legislation, is being tied up by a distracting debate over the question of whether airline interests should assume effective control over the aviation system, through the creation of a privatized entity.
The answer to that question is no, and here’s why: Under a privatized system, the airlines would be left to handle decisions over consumer taxes and fees, availability of aviation access in small towns and rural areas, infrastructure investment and other important matters.
Under such a scenario, the airlines will most likely decide to pursue not what is in the interest of the public — including the citizens and communities that rely on aviation services other than those provided by the airlines — but instead, what is in the airlines’ business interests. That means, for example, that available funding will be directed toward investments in the big hub airports, which are most profitable for the airlines, at the expense of rural communities throughout Oregon.
This is why concerns over plans for ATC privatization have been raised by members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle, and also by state and local officials around the country, and consumer and rural groups. It is also a key reason why Americans, by a two-to-one majority, oppose privatization of the nation’s ATC system.
Here’s the bottom line: America has the world’s largest, safest and most diverse aviation system. That’s largely because it is operated with congressional oversight, which ensures the system is operated in the public interest — including Oregonians in towns large and small — not one stakeholder’s business interest. It’s important we keep it that way.
Neal White, president
Oregon Pilots Association