U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran made a stop to Wichita Eisenhower National Airport on Friday for a tour and to reiterate his opposition to privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system.
“It sounds like probably some issue that is not that important to folks in Kansas, but the reality is it really is,” he said, before embarking on an hour-long tour of the airport and to talk with a handful of leaders from local aviation companies who accompanied him. “I am one of many who believe this is terribly damaging to all but the largest airports, the largest communities in the country.”
Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said earlier this week that the committee will consider his legislation next week to shift responsibility for the nation’s air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private, nonprofit corporation.
Shuster expected the full House to vote on the bill in mid-July.
Shuster said the revised legislation broadens participation on the 13-seat board of directors that will run the new corporation, so no one can claim that any particular group will dominate the panel.
A host of organizations representing general aviation pilots and manufacturers, including Wichita’s Textron Aviation and Bombardier Learjet, oppose air traffic control privatization. So does the Wichita Airport Authority, which earlier this week sent a letter to the Kansas congressional delegation, Shuster and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee opposing the effort.
The airport and general aviation groups argue the move to privatization is driven by commercial airlines that would dominate the privatized system’s board and exert control of the airspace, squeezing out general and business aviation, and impacting demand for new airplanes and the services that support them.
Moran said the general and business aviation industries view privatization “as a threat to the cost of flying a small airplane,” imposing new fees for use of airspace and redirecting air traffic control resources to the largest airports in the largest cities.
He also thinks new fees from a privatized system would prevent people from learning to fly and “block” general aviation aircraft from flying to or from large commercial airports.
“We want to take care of Wichita and Garden City and Manhattan and Kansas City,” Moran said. “And just with the makeup of that board including representation from the airlines they’re going to want air traffic control assets resources focused on where they have the most passengers.”
Todd Winter, president and CEO of Mid-Continent Instruments, an avionics and related accessories manufacturer, was among the aviation executives on the tour with Moran.
One of his bigger concerns with ATC privatization would be his ability to maintain and grow employment. Mid-Continent has 160 employees in Van Nuys, Calif., and Wichita, with the bulk of them here.
“I’m trying to provide great jobs for people here in Wichita,” Winter said. “… I think that will definitely have an effect on that.”
Contributing: Associated Press
Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark