Since 1958, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has overseen the standards and regulations of the airline industry. In that time, the magnitude and complexity of air travel has increased exponentially. Today, air travel is still one of the safest modes of transportation thanks to the training and professionalism of America’s Air Traffic Controllers (ATC).
The FAA is a federal agency, funded and overseen by Congress. As such, it is necessary to enact legislation to reauthorize the funding levels and update the policy priorities of the agency. Last year, Congress passed the reauthorization of the FAA for another year, under the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016. At that time, some in Congress advocated to privatize the FAA and replace the federal workforce with private contractors. In my opinion this was a terrible idea, and fortunately the effort was unsuccessful.
Congress has always provided key oversight of the FAA and ATC to keep our skies safe and efficient. Because of its balanced approach to regulation and operational standards, the FAA has made our skies the safest and most reliable airspace in the world. Proponents of FAA privatization want to move forward with a corporate-like entity to regulate the airline industry. However, rather than an independent regulatory body, the proposed structure of this corporate entity would allow the airline industry to control the makeup of the board of directors. Not only would this proverbial fox watch the hen house, it would also have the authority to set fees and dictate regulatory policy.
Financially, a privatized FAA would be unfair to the American taxpayer. It is simply wrong to take billions of dollars’ worth of assets purchased by federal funds and put them in the hands of private interests – a recipe for lost accountability and possible misuse of funds. Not only does this endanger the system financially, it will have policy implications that range from issues such as general resources to the operation of rural airports and contract control towers. It will also raise fees for travelers by incurring excess costs to support a monopolistic system. This has been evident in other nations like Britain and Canada, where a privatized system is in place.
The FAA plays a major role in Oklahoma’s economy. Oklahoma has over 4,700 Air Traffic Control employees at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center (MMAC) and various airports around the state. The transition to a privatized system could potentially damage the dedicated workforce that has sustained safe and transparent skies in Oklahoma and across the nation.
Just as our national interstate highway system benefits from federal funding and oversight, our skies benefit greatly from the FAA and the air traffic controllers who direct the traffic of our airlines and general aviation. It protects the airlines, its employees and travelers, as well as our overall national security. The FAA has worked well for our nation for many years. If it’s not broke, then don’t try to fix it.