With approximately 7,000 planes in flight over the United States at any given time, the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system is among the most vital functions that our government carries out every day.
In New York, access to safe and affordable flights is integral to our local economy. In addition to allowing efficient business travel and general aviation activities, the aviation industry itself supports 37,800 jobs statewide, including dozens of rural airports that have a significant economic impact in their communities.
The good news for air travelers is that recently a misguided proposal in the House of Representatives that would have put this vital ATC service at risk was grounded on the runway.
When Congress passed a short-term extension for the Federal Aviation Administration, it chose not to embrace a legislative proposal to privatize air traffic control, dismantling a working system and putting in its place an untested framework with the potential to drive up costs and limit access. The ATC privatization proposal would place a standalone corporation funded by user fees in charge of all air traffic operations, a proposal that has the potential to significantly increase travel costs for New York passengers.
Privatization would essentially create a government-sanctioned monopoly, a completely unaccountable body with free rein to raise fees and fares. Despite the ATC system’s extraordinary powers over public airspace, this private entity wouldn’t answer to any elected officials.
In fact, ATC privatization really boils down to a huge priority change: a shift in the ATC system’s focus away from equal access and toward annual revenue and the bottom line. That loss is of particular concern because the reality is that a private ATC entity would not prioritize the airports of upstate New York.
In a privatized ATC system, smaller or more geographically isolated airports could face significantly reduced resources and airspace access.
The existing ATC system works, and it’s getting better every year. There’s no reason to compromise that positive trajectory with a transition that will be messy in the short term and potentially harmful in the long term.
The fact is that privatization (already costly and complex to put in place) carries serious risks, offset by only speculative benefits. And when families and businesses across our state depend on reasonably priced air travel, giving a private corporation the power to take it away simply isn’t an option.
While it is welcome news that Congress chose to reject ATC privatization, the FAA extension expires in 2017, giving privatization supporters another chance next year.
We applaud senators Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and our delegation in the House of Representatives for leaving ATC privatization in the hanger where it belongs. They did the right thing for upstate New York, and we urge them to firmly oppose any future effort to resuscitate this misguided ATC privatization proposal that could increase fares and decrease access for New York air travelers.
Colleen DiPirro is president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce in Erie County.