Just as many on the East Coast are bracing for the annual hurricane season, emergency response crews across the Western half of country are preparing for wildfire season.
The truth is, there is always a natural disaster to prepare for. A huge component of our disaster preparedness is ensuring that we have a sound emergency and transportation infrastructure on which to rely — especially for smaller and rural communities.
Whether it’s Hurricane Matthew, which resulted in hundreds of deaths, or recent wildfires in California that burned through over 500,000 acres, or even larger-scale disasters, the ability to transport people in and out of affected areas and deliver supplies, food and water can make the difference between life and death — especially for many rural areas of the country.
Indeed, aviation and small airports help to save critical time and lives. That is as true in the monitoring of our power lines as it is in transporting blood or patients to trauma centers, or bringing in food and supplies.
All of which should give Americans pause as the Trump administration stakes out a position in favor of airtraffic- control privatization and moving controllers to an “independent,non-governmental organization.”
I believe Congress must carefully weigh the potential ramifications — especially as they relate to emergency response and disaster relief — with removingair-traffic controllers fromfederal control and oversight.
As the former chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency that oversees FEMA and disaster preparation, response and recovery, I know firsthand how important aviation-access equity is to our national resilience.
The scale and breadth of America’s non-urban geography makes emergency and disaster response uniquely reliant on general aviation airports. Those airports are located throughout our nation’s heartland and are thebackbone of emergency response in rural communities.
Across the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration relies on about 3000 general aviation facilities to support emergency-response efforts. Many of these facilities are small airports in locations that allow first responders to quickly arrive at emergencies and more efficiently provide disaster relief.
Some of the critical services provided by first responders through generalaviation facilities include medical flights, search and rescue and local, state and federal law-enforcement and firefighting flights.
The privatization of air-traffic controllers has the potential to dramatically shift aviation infrastructure funding and investment. A privatized or publicprivate system of controllers would have the ability to impose new fees or taxes that could cripple smaller airports.
Additionally, commercial airlines — like those that would sit on the privatized entity’s board — have indicated they would direct resources where they can derive the greatest profit: the most populated and trafficked regions.
We live in a free-market economy, and I support and embrace profitdriven decision-making in the commercial environment. National resilience, disaster response and recovery capabil-ity, however, are not commercial functions and should never be put at risk by a quest to increase profitability.
Emergency-management professionals must be ready to respond 24/7. Whether at the federal, state or local levels, America’s resilience depends on the location, capacity and stability of general aviation facilities.
Placing them in the cross hairs of the market economy is a risk too significant to experiment with.
Noah Kroloff served as chief of staff of the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013 and as deputy chief of staff to Arizona Gov . Janet Napolitano. Share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter, @GSIS_US.