Hundreds of people were in attendance as four general aviation leaders — EAA President Jack Pelton, AOPA President Mark Baker, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen, and GAMA President Pete Bunce — spoke out on ATC privatization at AirVenture Oshkosh on Monday afternoon. Recently, more than 170 general aviation associations joined together to oppose the House’s ATC privatization bill. Tomorrow, Baker, Bolen and Bunce will leave AirVenture to travel to Washington to meet with the House General Aviation Caucus to tell members of Congress why they oppose privatization.
“I do hate leaving Oshkosh in the middle of the show,” said AOPA’s Baker. “It’s a great place to be with great friends and great people, but the three of us are going to be in D.C. tomorrow to try and continue to educate our congressman.” Pelton had considered attending the meeting as well but decided to remain in Oshkosh.
The privatization fight has taken on a new and urgent dimension with General Aviation Caucus Co-Chairman Rep. Sam Graves flip-flopping on the issue after originally opposing ATC corporatization.
The House bill’s major proponent, Rep. Bill Shuster, has resorted to what many in aviation see as dirty tactics by threatening individual general aviation associations to support the privatization bill or face the consequences. Asked if the GA associations would fight back using any means necessary, Bunce was quick to point out the leaders would be taking the high road, despite the inconvenience of having to leave during the middle of AirVenture.
“They took the General Aviation Caucus, which we helped to create,” Bunce said. “To Sam Graves’ credit, they created it. But they let a member of the White House come in and tell a one-sided story and that’s why we felt strongly that we needed to force the issue to allow us to tell our story and that’s why we’re going back tomorrow. Give them credit, they’re giving us a forum to do that.”
Major airlines, supported by Shuster and the Trump White House, want to spin off ATC from the FAA and create a non-profit corporation to run it with a board of directors heavily influenced by airlines and unions. The GA leaders stress that the only thing wrong with the ATC system is funding, which Congress controls.
“If Congress would just pass long-term spending bill that properly funds ATC modernization, all of the problems would be solved without having to resort to privatization,” Pelton said.
The privatization bill, which now runs to about 3,000 pages, currently does not include GA user fees, but Shuster has made it clear that general aviation would be forced to pay for ATC.