The Alliance for Aviation Across America is pointing to woes encountered by UK air traffic services provider NATS as a troubling sign of what could happen in the U.S. under a plan to separate ATC from the FAA. The Alliance has long been an opponent of the plan to create an independent, user-funded organization to run the U.S. ATC system, expressing concerns that such an effort could hamper access to rural communities in the long term.
“Proponents of air traffic control privatization have long claimed that the U.S. should follow the lead of the UK and other countries in terms of privatization, lauding the so-called benefits [of] privatization in those countries,” the Alliance noted. “The truth? After moving to a privatized air traffic control [organization], the UK has been plagued by increasing delays, widespread technical glitches, mass-strandings, and resulting in calls for modernization and a potential government bailout.”
The Alliance pointed to articles in The Independent, which said NATS “is in meltdown, short-staffed and unable to cope” in the wake of the computer system issues at British Airways. It also noted concerns that government support will be necessary for a “massive modernization” that NATS believes will be necessary to keep up with air traffic control.
The association further highlighted the fact that NATS handed over control of the country’s second largest airport, Gatwick Airport, to German air navigation service provider DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung.
“The example of the UK is exactly why we should not privatize,” the Alliance said.
The Alliance has worked with a number of aviation organizations and businesses, rural community and consumer advocacy groups in opposing the effort. The organization’s warning comes as opponents and proponents have spent the August recess trying to solidify their positions on Capitol Hill. When lawmakers return in September, there will be just 12 days when both the House and Senate are in session to reach a compromise on FAA reauthorization—which includes the ATC provision—or pass an extension of the FAA’s authorization.
ATC reform proponents hoped to bring the proposal to the House floor for a vote before the August recess began, but were not able to garner sufficient votes. However, they believed the votes have been within reach and have continued a major push to build support. The Senate, meanwhile, which has not offered a similar proposal, also was not able to get its version of FAA reauthorization to the floor.