Watertown Mayor Steve Thorson has come out against any federal proposal to privatize air traffic control.
In a letter dated March 6 and signed by over 100 mayors across the nation – including six from South Dakota – addressed to members of Congress, the mayors urged Congress to not privatize air traffic control.
The letter comes as Congress is set to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.
The letter was primarily addressed to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Thune is the chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the legislative body charged with overseeing aviation matters. Nelson is a ranking Democrat on the committee.
Thorson, along with the other mayors, argued privatization of air traffic control would negatively affect smaller airports such as Watertown’s.
“Privatization would hand over decisions about infrastructure funding, taxes and fees, consumer complaints, noise, and many other priorities, to a board of private interests dominated by the commercial airlines,” the letter states. “These are the same airlines that have cut back flights to smaller communities by more than 20 percent in recent years, and have stated their intent to divert investment from small and mid-sized communities to large ones where the airlines are most profitable.”
Speaking with the Public Opinion earlier this week, Thorson added his belief that Congress shouldn’t change a system that has worked fine for Watertown and cities with airports of similar size.
“We feel as a group that air traffic control should remain under congressional oversight. We’re asking Congress to support leaving the system as it is,” Thorson said.
Watertown doesn’t have an air traffic controller on site. Instead, the city relies on controllers in Minneapolis to keep the skies in order and relay information back to Watertown and planes using Watertown Regional Airport.
With thousands of airports dotting the United States, Thorson believes that a central government body in Congress is needed to provide oversight to an industry tasked with ensuring the safety of aviation employees and passengers.
“I understand that private businesses sometimes work better. But air traffic control is really a business that is run independently of all others,” Thorson said. “This is such a huge thing for the entire United States. I think our air traffic control still needs somebody looking over the top of them and saying ‘Why are you doing this or that?’ It’s just kind of the watchdog side.”
If privatization of air traffic control were to occur, the letter noted that costs and access would be a concern, comparing a theoretical United States privatization system unfavorably to those systems already in place in Canada and the United Kingdom.
“We are also concerned about costs and access,” the letter states. “For example, the Canadian privatized system, which is often held up as the system the U.S. should emulate, is more expensive than the system we have in the U.S. by miles flown. In the U.K., that system has seen ‘more delays, higher fares and reduced connectivity’ at London’s airports since privatization.
“While we all agree that modernizing our air traffic control system and investing in American infrastructure should be among our highest priorities, privatization is not the answer,” the letter concluded.
Under the current act, the FAA is authorized to operate up to Sept. 30.