With due respect to my good friend Roger Niello (“Another Voice: Air traffic control needs overhaul”), the airline industry and Trump administration’s push to privatize air traffic control in the United States is a bad idea in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.
Our nation’s air traffic control system is the best in the world, safely managing thousands of flights a day, and the last thing we want to do is turn over a valuable public asset to private interests.
In truth, the proposal is a power grab by the airline industry to control and delay the Federal Aviation Administration’s ambitious NextGen modernization program transitioning much of our ground base navigation systems to a GPS satellite based system. A Government Accountability Office report released Sept. 7 revealed that a rush to air traffic control privatization could have a negative effect on modernization and undo progress already made on the NextGen system, with no promise of greater benefits.
The airlines have chaffed at the 2020 deadline set by the FAA in 2010 to comply with the NextGen navigation systems requirements. Their control of the air traffic control system would create regulatory confusion over whether the FAA can establish the regulations that govern air space, pilot and aircraft regulations, and navigation systems when the private air traffic control board controls the skies.
This is a prescription for aviation disaster, not passenger safety. As Captain “Sully” Sullenberger said in announcing his opposition to the air traffic control privatization proposal, “Why in the world would we give the keys to the kingdom to the largest airlines? Because they definitely have their own agenda – to lower their costs.”
There are many other reasons to oppose this horrible idea: rural communities will lose air service, general aviation pilots will be frozen out of the skies with user fees that discourage use of the air traffic system, public bailouts will likely follow this proposal, and so on. Unsurprisingly, every major aviation group opposes this irresponsible gambit, including the National Business Aviation Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Pilots love to grumble about the FAA and Lord knows it’s an imperfect organization. We even claim sometimes that the FAA’s motto is “We’re not happy till you’re not happy.” But when the going gets tough and you’re in the clouds, in a storm, at night, over mountains, sometimes in some of the most crowded airspace in the world, there isn’t a pilot I know that is not grateful to our current air traffic control system and the professional controllers that protect us all equally in the sky. Please, let’s not break it.