Air travel has become a stressful experience — technological glitches and widespread outages, never-ending fees, lost baggage and increasingly cramped seats. However, passengers can take solace in knowing that our U.S. airspace is the safest, largest and most complex system on Earth.
Every day, over 2 million passengers travel on 42,500 commercial flightsin the U.S. It is the duty of the dedicated employees at the Federal Aviation Administrationto ensure the safety of the traveling public day in and day out, without fail. In fact, New Jersey has one of the most unique and complex aviation systems in the country. From general aviation airports to Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey is home to 46 airports that contribute to the economic growth and success of the region. As the inspector general of the Department of Transportation said at a recent hearing before Congress, the U.S., and certainly New Jersey, is in “the golden era of aviation safety right now.”
Yet a dangerous proposal is being pushed by President Donald Trump, members of Congress and their commercial airline allies that would privatize our air traffic control (ATC) system and turn it into a nonprofit private monopoly. This would be a threat to aviation safety and disrupt our National Airspace System. Proponents want to take ATC out of the federal government and put it under the control of a board of directors which could be influenced by a small group of airlines. Currently, ATC is a public service that benefits all users. But if a few airlines decide that investing in noncommercial airports, such as northern New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, responsible for more than 15,000 jobs and $1.8 billion in annual sales in the region, is unprofitable, we could see long-term, rippling effects, harming small businesses and threatening aviation safety.
Under privatization, the flying public would likely pay more than it does today, continuing to fund the FAA through taxes, but ATC would depend on user fees that the airlines will undoubtedly pass along to their customers. ATC could also fall prey to shortfalls in times of economic downturn or other shocks to our system, or even go into bankruptcy, requiring a taxpayer bailout.
The U.S. ATC system is growing and modernizing, but privatization would slow down these advances. The White House says this would take three years, but experience in other countries shows us the transition could take five to seven years or even more. Today, real and substantial advances are being accomplished through NextGen modernizationat the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City. But privatizing ATC would slow this effort, diverting focus from NextGen’s safety-enhancing technology to establishing a new private organization.
This large-scale government reorganization would imperil the core mission of the interrelated segments of the FAA, which are devoted to maintaining safety and efficiency. Collaboration and interaction between every part of the FAA is essential to the success of our aviation system. The FAA manages the most complicated aviation system in the world; splitting the agency up disrupts this proven model and gambles with aviation safety.It is folly to believe that a privatized system would seamlessly function in the same capacity as it does within the FAA. Simply stated, sufficient thought has not been given as to how this change might impact safety.
There are better ways to reform the FAA. Congress should provide the FAA with multiyear funding that can be used with more flexibility, not introduce significant uncertainty. And, once and for all, Congress should shield the FAA from sequestration. These measures will relieve the FAA from the annual squabbles between Republicans and Democrats over how to fund the government.
Rather than creating upheaval in the world’s safest and busiest aviation system, we should continue to invest in improvements to technology, stabilize federal funding streams and ensure adequate staffing.Most important, we must ensure the safety of our aviation system and the flying public by allowing the federal employees at the FAA to continue to do the work they were expertly trained to perform.
Mike Perrone is the national president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a labor union representing more than 11,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense.