The President today held a press conference at the White House to release principles in favor of privatizing our air traffic control system, which would gift control over this critical infrastructure to the commercial airlines at a time when they least deserve it.
“The White House plan to privatize the air traffic control system would give control over this infrastructure to private stakeholders and the commercial airlines, directly harming consumers and smaller communities who are already at the mercy of a large airline-conglomerate that leaves them with fewer choices, terrible and degrading treatment on flights, and a stream of constant delays and travel headaches that are the airlines own fault,” said Selena Shilad, Executive Director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.
The commercial airlines have recently admitted that this push to privatize air traffic control is about gaining “control,” so they can direct resources into their top hub airports such as the “Northeast corridor” and away from the airports that connect thousands of communities and support economic activity. Moreover, DOT data shows that the majority of air traffic control delays are caused by the airlines themselves, surpassing weather and air traffic control. The United Kingdom is one of the privatized systems which proponents say we should emulate, but the incident a week ago with British Airlines, which resulted in four days of cancelled flights and the stranding of more than 300,000 passengers, shows that privatization would do little to alleviate delays and the real issues of mismanagement and horrible customer service that plague passengers on a daily basis and have become more prevalent in recent months. Not only that, small towns and communities have already seen cuts in airline service by 20 percent in recent years, and any user fee would disproportionately impact the small businesses, farms, and communities that rely on general aviation and small airports.
“Not only is the President’s proposal a huge power grab for the commercial airlines, but the notion that the airlines can run anything better, let alone air traffic control, is laughable. These are the same airlines can scarcely get through a week without beating up their customers or throwing them off of flights, they have reduced service by over 20% to small towns, and they have about a major technological outage a week. All of these issues are the direct result of the fact that the airlines have become too large and anticompetitive, so handing them the keys to the air traffic control system is exactly a step in the wrong direction.”
The President’s proposal is particularly egregious as it calls for the air traffic control to be paid for backs of consumers and communities through new user fee taxes. Taxpayers have no recourse against onerous fees and taxes; the proposal even prohibits these fees from judicial review. And, according to news reports the proposal to privatize the air traffic control system, would add $46 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, and calls for all of these facilities and assets to be turned over to this new private entity for free, amounting to a $30-50 billion giveaway to the airlines. Imagine, the airlines that charge for everything – legroom, checked bags, talking to an agent and soon probably for use of the bathroom – and the extent that they will abuse this new taxing power to make us pay more and more for service that gets worse and worse.