Privatizing Air Traffic is a Power Grab by Airlines
June 28, 2017
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  • Dave McDonald is the president of Flamingo Air, a private airline based out of Lunken Airport.

    The United States has the most complex system of air traffic control in the world. This system handles millions of flights every year. Air traffic controllers deftly handle all types of air traffic from airliners to business aviation to private aircraft. These aircraft haul millions of passengers each year, and this system has efficiently run in its present form for decades. 

    Now, the federal government says it has a better idea. Let’s take this system which is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration and turn it over to a “non-profit board of 13 members.” This is a bad idea for several reasons.

    First, the board would be controlled by the airlines. An ABC News article states, “the number of pre-determined seats belonging to major airlines is double that of the general aviation community, which represents 26 times more aircraft than commercial carriers, per the FAA.”

    Do we trust the group who has been charging travelers more for less to not use this power to control the National Airspace System to “feather their own nests” at the expense of general aviation? They collected $6.8 billion in fees in 2015. Why would we think that the airlines would not abuse their control of the skies? 

    Then there is the claim that privatization would reduce costs. But it probably won’t. According to the same ABC News article, “The major domestic carriers all support the privatization plan, with the notable exception of Delta Air Lines. Delta released a study in 2016 indicating such a move could increase traveler costs by 20 to 29 percent.” 

    Privatization will lead to user fees. Presently, the FAA-run Air Traffic Control system is funded by Congress and is free to all levels of aviation. If that ends, the system must be funded somehow. User fees will be the answer. Other nations such as Canada and the UK have user fees and it has not made those systems any cheaper to operate. An article in the Alliance for Aviation Across America stated that per industry consultant Bob Mann, “the current FAA-run system costs $2.07 per mile, 8 cents cheaper than Nav Canada charges. The UK’s NATS system required a bailout of 130 million pounds – 65 million pounds taken from taxpayer subsidies, and another 65 million pounds in airline contributions through fare increases, and the Canadian system had to adjust fees several times to adjust to funding shortfalls.”

    Privatization will also reduce access to air travel for millions of people. The same article states that per “the General Accounting Office, approximately 1.2 million scheduled domestic flights were eliminated from 2007 through 2013 at large-, medium-, and small-hub, and non-hub airports. Scheduled departures at medium-hub airports decreased nearly 24 percent between 2007 and 2013… about 20 percent at small-hub airports over the same time period.” This access will shrink even further should the airlines gain control of the National Airspace System. They will increasingly move away from less profitable airports, thereby lowering access to air travel in more remote areas of the nation. 

    It will not increase efficiency or security. The airlines canceled over 300,000 flights in 2015, but they want to blame the Air Traffic Control system. How many times have airlines canceled flights due to weather? And their computer systems crashed forcing days of canceled flights, over 21 times just in the past two years.

    Lastly, 62 percent of voters oppose privatization.

    There is no clear benefit to the flying public in the areas of cost savings, efficiency, or security. The American people know this is a grab for power by the airlines. The airlines don’t want this control out of the goodness of their hearts. There is a great deal of benefit for them, and that should make us even more skeptical of their motives. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.