Kate Flexter WWSB
Suncoast Reacts to White House Push to Privatize Air Traffic Control
June 28, 2017
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  • Earlier this month President Trump President called for the separation of air traffic controllers from the Federal Aviation Administration. He wants the industry to be privatized in an effort to cut costs and speed up innovation.

    The announcement is drawing reaction from people from all sectors of the airline industry, including here on the Suncoast.

    Erik Aibel feels most comfortable in the cockpit. He’s been flying commercial and private planes for 35 years and has seen technology change over the decades.

    “The weather depiction reports were on 1940’s fax machines,” Aibel said.

    But one thing has stayed very much the same, air traffic control.

    It’s the nucleus of an airport, overseeing 70,000 take-offs and landings a day nationwide.

    “The service I’ve been getting for the last 30 years has been outstanding,” Aibel said.

    Yet, a recent report shows FAA staffing dropped to its lowest level in 28 years, leading to mandatory overtime and leaving staff stretched.

    Plus, controllers direct flights with 1960’s era radar and flight numbers listed on strips of paper. A system other countries have long since abandoned.

    That’s why President Trump is pushing for the privatization of the country’s air traffic control system. It’s a move he calls an “air travel revolution.” 

    “If we adopt these changes, America can look forward to cheaper, faster and safer air travel,” Trump said. “A future where 20% of the ticket price doesn’t go to the government and where you don’t have to sit on the tarmac or circle for hours and hours over an airport.”

    This would allow the FAA to handle safety while general aviation, passengers and airlines would pay for a non-profit company to handle air traffic control. Proponents say it would allow a shift to satellite-based G.P.S. navigation. 

    It’s a move that would make air travel more efficient and profitable for airlines and one many countries have already made.

    Rick Piccolo is the president and CEO of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

    “You have a technology in your car where you can track where you are quicker than in an aircraft,” Piccolo said.

    So why is a country so often on the cutting edge of innovation stuck in the dark ages when it comes to air travel.

    Piccolo says it has a lot to do with the speed at which the federal government moves.

    “By the time they acquire any new technology and get it installed, it’s woefully outdated,” Piccolo said.

    Beyond much needed technology updates though, Piccolo says it’s still not clear how this will play out.

    “The devil is in the details of how they want to implement this and what kind of corporation they want to set up and who’s going to control it,” Piccolo said.

    But for those in the general aviation population like Aibel, he worries this would add costly user fees.

    “Flying already is expensive and this is just going to be an added impediment,” Aibel said. 

    Aibel says, don’t fix what isn’t broke.

    “Generally speaking, air traffic control is very fluid in this country.”

    President Trump’s plan is still in it’s early stages and it’s not clear if it will be successful.