SOUTH BURLINGTON – The director of the Burlington International Airport stands with Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in opposing an effort to privatize air traffic control backed by President Donald Trump.
Welch said Tuesday the privatization effort would hurt Vermont’s economy.
“This airport is essential to the entire Vermont economy,” Welch said. “It will be affected by a proposal now winding its way through Congress to privatize the air traffic control system. Right now that system is under the auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s been working well for years.”
Welch said the argument for privatization is that it will cost less, but the experience is that it actually costs more, and any additional costs will be passed on to the flying public in the form of higher fees on their tickets. The current system is supported by ticket fees, as would a privatized system be supported.
“In Canada, where they did privatize, passenger fees for this service increased over 50 percent,” Welch said.
The deregulation of the airlines has already resulted in reducing service and increasing costs at rural airports, according to Welch. He believes privatization will only intensify that trend.
“Rural America is on its heels,” Welch said. “We have to get it back and have it be strong.”
President Trump released principles for reforming the air traffic control system on June 5, saying reform of the system offered an “exciting infrastructure improvement opportunity.”
“The Administration’s principles for reforming (air traffic control) will drive legislation that will reduce delays, further improve aviation’s leading safety record, protect access to rural communities, and accelerate much needed capital investment,” the statement says.
Welch was joined Tuesday in a news conference at Burlington International Airport by Airport Director Gene Richards and Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. Richards said he has safety concerns if the air traffic control system is privatized.
“When you start introducing savings to something that provides safety to the flying public you could present a fair amount of risk to the public,” Richards said. “I’m not willing to do that.”
Torti echoed Welch’s concerns about the economic impact privatization could have on Vermont.
“It’s expensive to do business here,” Torti said. “If we make it more expensive to travel from Vermont to other places where companies do business they’re going to be less likely to locate here.”
Torti said Vermont could “ill afford” any additional costs that make the state less competitive.
“We compete for businesses, for employees, for tourists with other parts of the country,” he said.
Although a bill to privatize air traffic control has not yet been introduced, Welch said he expects Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to roll out legislation in the fall. Shuster chairs the House Transportation Committee, and supports privatization.
“There’s a fleshed-out plan,” Welch said. “This has been in the works for quite some time.”
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.