Michael Bruno Aviation Week
U.S. Rural Lobby Wary Of Privatized ATC
April 6, 2017
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  • A slew of agricultural, rural and general aviation users told U.S. lawmakers April 6 that privatizing domestic air traffic control (ATC) management could harm them.

    “Rural communities, agriculture and small businesses stand to lose the most under a privatized system, where there would be no congressional oversight to ensure that all stakeholders and communities have access to air transportation,” the groups said in a joint letter to leading aviation policymakers in Congress.

    “Under a privatized system, a private board dominated by the largest commercial operators would undoubtedly direct resources and investments to the largest hub airports and urban areas where these investments would be most likely to benefit their bottom line.”

    The letter came the same day a sympathetic Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security met to hear perspectives from rural air service and GA communities ahead of the pending FAA reauthorization deadline.

    “This subcommittee is mindful of the anxiety in rural communities that hear talk about funding cuts in Washington to these programs,” Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said. “Proposed cuts to rural aviation programs are a perennial request of both Republican and Democratic administrations. While a president has the right to propose cuts in spending, the Constitution gives Congress the power to actually set spending.”

    New U.S. President Donald Trump has called for a multiyear reauthorization to shift the ATC function of the FAA to an independent, nongovernmental organization. The move follows a plan pushed in 2016 by major U.S. carriers and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn. Trump also has called for elimination of the federal subsidy to the Essential Air Service, which was set up in the wake of the 1978 airline deregulation to guard against total loss of service at smaller airports and communities.

    In his opening remarks, Blunt said the overall economic impact of reliable air service in small communities is worth roughly $121 billion, and supports more than 1.1 million jobs.

    According to the rural-GA letter sent to lawmakers, there are more than 5,000 airports across the U.S., at least 3,300 of which are public-use airports. “Yet, there is only commercial service at 509 airports, and airline capacity is dwindling—by about 20% in recent years, in particular,” they said.

    Signatories included the Alliance for Aviation Across America; Agriculture Retailers Association; Crop Life America; League of Rural Voters; National Agricultural Aviation Association; National Council of Agricultural Employers; National Farmers Union; National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry; National Women in Agriculture Association; and the USA Rice Federation.