The Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, which is currently undergoing expansion, would be among the many small airports affected if President Donald Trump’s plan to privatize air traffic control is implemented.
One outspoken critic of the plan is Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson, who is a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America and the chairman of the Pullman airport’s board of directors.
“There’s a lot of us, especially in smaller communities, rural communities, those of us who know the importance of business aviation, those who know the importance of general aviation that believe it’s a very bad idea,” Johnson said.
Right now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a government organization, directs American air traffic control. This means that the system is publicly-owned and paid for via taxes. If controllers are privatized, they would likely be funded via fees from the airlines, meaning the most profitable flights and destinations would supply the most funding and likely receive the best service, according to an Alliance for Aviation Across America news release.
The concern that many, including Johnson, have is that giving air traffic control facilities to large airlines will de-emphasize small airports, such as the one in Pullman, and give effective air traffic control only to large, busy airports with lots of air traffic. Another concern is that larger flights with more passengers would be treated preferentially to private pilots and smaller airlines, because they would contribute more funding.
One of the most important factors in why our air traffic control is so effective is the fact that everyone from the smallest flight at the smallest airport to the busiest airline in a highly congested city is treated equally in terms of service and safety, according to an article by Henry Grabar of Slate. Privatization would jeopardize that.
“The Federal Aviation Administration has done a tremendous job, in terms of safety of all the flights we have today,” Johnson said.
If the safety of our airspace today were in question, changing the current system would make sense. But because the U.S. has such an incredible safety standard in terms of air travel, there is no reason to believe it would improve if we turned things over to a private entity.
While Pullman does not have a lot of commercial air traffic (only Alaska Airlines operates at the airport), our local economy depends on the regional airport for commerce, Johnson said. These local users of the airport would be significantly affected if the FAA were to turn over control to a privately-run enterprise.
In addition to placing less priority on safety at small airports, Johnson also believes that privatizing air traffic control will make it more costly. Several other nations, such as Canada, do use private controllers, but Johnson said that the cost per mile in these countries is higher than that in the U.S.
Additionally, Canada has only a 10th of the air traffic on a daily basis that the U.S. has, so privatizing control of our skies would not necessarily have the same effect in our country.
It is important that our representatives fight for local interests, such as the community’s small airport, and don’t allow them to be overlooked by the large cities and corporations of our country. Leaving air traffic control in the hands of a private entity will leave the power in the hands of a few large corporations and hurt the small players in the air travel industry.