NBAA: Too many misleading claims in ATC modernization debate
August 14, 2017
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  • This piece written by Ed Bolen, President and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, has been submitted to AeroTime in response to the opinion article by Drew Johnson published here. The opinion of the authors does not necessarily correspond to that of the editorial staff. Want your piece to be featured? Send it to us at editor@aerotime.aero.

    As Americans take to the skies for summer travel, they may be unaware that Congress is debating legislation to chart the future of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

    It’s an important debate, because it’s about the future of America’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) system. Unfortunately, in the course of this debate, a host of misleading, and even baseless claims have been thrown around – let’s consider a few examples, and get the facts on the table.

    As one example, the airlines and their allies are drudging up some of their same, old, tired arguments, including one about who pays what into the nation’s aviation system, to try to justify a risky, unpopular idea they have long pushed for, called ATC privatization.

    Their aggressive efforts including the promotion of many misleading claims, including those about the mostly small, non-airline aircraft that also fly in the aviation system. In this regard, the airlines would have people believe there is something amiss about the taxes on payment and use of those aircraft. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth: the aircraft are taxed fully and legally, and system use is paid for the same way most Americans pay for the use of their cars on the nation’s roads: at the pump, through a fuel tax.

    Equally troubling is that these slight-of-hand games distract from what ATC privatization advocates are really pushing for: a wholesale giveaway of the public’s aviation system to a private, airline-dominated entity, which will be unaccountable to the public or Congress.

    Under such a system, the airlines and their allies would have sweeping authority to focus mainly on their business interests, directing resources into the hub airports most beneficial to their bottom line, adding to their well-documented pattern of anti-consumer, anti-competitive, anti-investment behaviors and restricting access to the system for the countless citizens, companies and communities that rely on general aviation for business, civil services, humanitarian flights and a host of other needs.

    What does that kind of arrangement have to do with modernizing America’s world-leading aviation system? Absolutely nothing. Everyone agrees on the need to modernize, including the thousands of entrepreneurs and companies that use aircraft as an essential business tool, which in turn supports more than a million jobs and $200 billion in economic activity.

    Indeed, these companies walk the walk when it comes to modernization, paying for upgraded aircraft technologies that pave the way for a true “Next Generation” aviation system. In contrast, the big airlines have successfully lobbied to delay the adoption of such technologies for some of their aircraft. Their focus on avoiding technological upgrades is further illustrated by the rolling crashes in their increasingly outdated IT systems, which lately have been stranding passengers at airports by the thousands, at a rate of about once a month. Is this the group best suited to run the system, and make the technological investments for a true 21st-century aviation system?

    These and a host of other concerns have been plainly in view, not just to NBAA and the entrepreneurs and companies using airplanes for business in America’s heartland and across the country. A majority of the American public, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives, over 100 business leaders, more than 100 U.S. mayors, consumer groups, government watchdogs, think tanks on the political right and left, and more than 100 other aviation industry groups understand what’s at stake, which is why they oppose ATC privatization.

    Simply put, when it comes to the debate over real ATC modernization, what’s needed is substance, not just sizzle. That means we should not confuse the airlines’ plans for privatization with ATC modernization. If the two concepts are conflated, the risk to the nation’s aviation system is simply too great.

    Founded in 1947 and based in Washington, DC, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is the leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful. The association represents more than 11,000 companies and provides more than 100 products and services to the business aviation community, including the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition, the world’s largest civil aviation trade show.