Proposal to Change Air-Traffic Control Raises More Questions Than It Answers
September 2, 2016
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  • To the Editor:

    The op-ed “Antiquated air-traffic control hurts New York economy” raised but did not answer a number of important questions related to proposals in Congress to privatize the nation’s air-traffic control system.

    No one agrees more than we do that modernizing the system and ensuring that we keep travelers flying safely and efficiently must be among the highest priorities of our lawmakers. But the truth is that privatization is much different from modernization—and privatization of air-traffic control has raised a lot more questions and concerns than answers.

    First, privatization would mean turning concern and authority relating to everything from gates to fees to airport investment and infrastructure over to a private board dominated by commercial-airline interests. Currently, Congress oversees governance of air traffic control and ensures that communities and airports of all sizes are accessible and invested in, because they are an important part of our national, public air-transportation system.

    Not only that, it is unclear what benefits would result from such a massive and risky maneuver. Just last week, Bloomberg reported that “airline-caused delays totaled 20.2 million minutes last year—2.7 million more than all other categories combined.” So, if the biggest cause of airline delays is not air-traffic control but questionable business practices of the commercial airlines themselves, it is unclear how turning this system over to them via a private board would alleviate delays. In addition, this summer, travelers have been plagued with systemwide computer problems from the airlines which have caused hundreds of thousands of delays.

    Second, restructuring our entire air-traffic control system, which is currently the largest, safest and most diverse in the world, is a huge endeavor with many potential and unforeseen consequences. Even the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has cautioned that in a privatized air-traffic control model, “safety roles and responsibilities may not easily be split between the safety regulator and air-traffic control entity.” That’s one reason members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and many consumer groups have voiced concerns. It is also one reason why, by a two-to-one margin, Americans are against privatizing air-traffic control and turning it over to a nonprofit entity.

    Finally, it is extremely concerning how small communities may fare under this proposal. How would we protect smaller and rural communities when airline executives have already indicated that they would direct resources into urban markets where it would benefit them the most?

    Proponents have not garnered adequate support in Congress for privatization for all these reason and more. Let’s move forward and figure out the best way to modernize air-traffic control to keep our system the best in the world, but let’s also preserve Congressional oversight of national air transportation to ensure that it continues to serve consumers and communities of all sizes.

    Mayor Michael J. Newhard

    Mayor Richard P. Negri

    Mayor Daniel J. Mandell

    The writers represent the New York municipalities of Warwick, Corning and Elmira, respectively.