The nearly 400-mile drive from Sioux Falls to Rapid City is an eye-opening reminder of how truly vast our state is. Because of the long distances many South Dakotans must regularly travel, air service is a vital tool for South Dakota’s communities and small businesses. Our air transportation network of 70 public-use airports ensures that businesses, farms and communities have access to the critical services and resources that they need.
Businesses count on the accessibility of smaller airports, allowing them to attend multiple meetings in different locations, fly into communities that are not served by big airlines and transport tools, parts and personnel across our state. For doctors and healthcare providers, reliable air transportation is a matter of life or death. Air travel allows them to visit patients in underserved areas and transport individuals to trauma centers and specialty health clinics.
However, our current aviation system is under threat from airline industry lobbyists. The biggest airlines support a current proposal in Congress to privatize our air traffic control system. While privatization might sound like a smart idea, the plan would actually be a massive giveaway to the airlines, creating a government sponsored monopoly. The new system would serve the biggest airlines and the largest hubs where they base their operations, while neglecting the smaller regional airports in S.D.
The big airlines already nickel and dime us for every conceivable service. If we give them more power, does anyone think they will behave any better? This plan would certainly help the biggest airlines, but it would be a raw deal for S.D.’s businesses and our communities.
Supporters of privatization have made many dubious claims to support the giveaway of our nation’s infrastructure to a private company. They like to claim that air traffic control is responsible for the scourge of delayed flights. But the truth is that Department of Transportation data shows the majority of flight delays are caused by the airlines themselves.
Supporters also point to countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, which have privatized their air traffic control system, but again, they are not telling you the full story. Earlier this year, a glitch in British Airways caused four days of cancelled flights in the U.K., with over 300,000 passengers stranded. Canada has repeatedly raised its fees since privatization, passing the costs on to flying public. This all goes to show that the problems that arise from air travel cannot be easily fixed through privatization of air traffic control.
Right now, Congress has oversight for our air transportation network. If the air traffic control system is turned over to a private corporation, consumers and businesses would have little or no recourse to address the issues that will inevitably arise. If this privatization scheme succeeds, we risk damaging the system that has allowed our state and our nation to flourish.
Paul Aylward is the mayor of Huron.