Privatizing Air Traffic Control Hurts Business
February 12, 2016
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  • There are a wide variety of ways to heat our homes, and many of the people who rely on gas, electric, or oil heat don’t realize that there are renewable options made much closer to home.

    The business I founded in New Hampshire, New England Wood Pellet, is dedicated to one of those options: wood pellet heating. Wood pellets are a new form of biofuel and are renewable, locally made, and low-carbon. Another thing people don’t realize: how much I relied on a small plane to keep the business going and keep homes heated during cold winter months.

    As a CEO, I worked to constantly make our operations as efficient and effective as possible. Using a small plane was an investment for the company that paid for itself time and time again, saving us time and money. With manufacturing locations in New Hampshire and New York, a five-and-a-half hour drive away, travel cost us a fortune.

    When we started to use the aircraft, we were able to save in travel expenses, free up our staff, reduce our costs for tools and parts, while ensuring that repairs could still be made as quickly as we needed them. Instead of having to buy a spare custom-made part for each plant, we could purchase one at a time because we knew we could transport parts and tools easily and quickly. When you’re talking about a computer controller for robots that costs thousands of dollars, this makes a difference.

    I am far from alone — many businesses like the one I founded depend on general aviation and our network of local airports to manage operations in multiple locations, move equipment and employees, and stay competitive in a changing economy. In New Hampshire alone general aviation supports nearly 800 jobs and contributes $1 billion in economic impact annually. And in addition to economic impact, general aviation helps facilitate services like firefighting, disaster response, and emergency medical care.

    Unfortunately, there has been a big push by the commercial airlines in recent months to privatize the air traffic control system, take away Congressional oversight, and put our system in the control of private interests. The proposed new system would leave small businesses, consumers and rural communities at the mercy of big, commercial interests on a number of fronts.

    It would also negatively impact smaller airports and the communities that depend on them. The priorities of the largest commercial interests — airlines — would dictate the priorities of the entire system. This means that commercial airlines would have the power to restrict access to smaller airports or control who gets in and out, and consumers would have no recourse when smaller routes are canceled. Additionally, it would create harmful new fees, making the use of a small aircraft prohibitively expensive for most businesses.

    Ensuring adequate funding and modernization of air traffic control is incredibly important, but let’s make sure that this plan isn’t just a ruse to shift control of our airways into the hands of the few at the expense of small businesses and rural communities. General aviation is a vital economic driver that many rely on.

    We need to work together to make sure that our air transportation system protects the interests of communities and businesses of all sizes.

    Steve Walker, of Peterborough, is the founder and former CEO of New England Wood Pellet LLC. He is also a private pilot.