Privatising Air Traffic Control Should Be on Everyone’s Radar
September 1, 2017
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  • This largely is because of it’s size and bureaucratic nature. This is, on the whole, a good thing. The path to change should be a slow, ponderous process when it comes to reforming how we govern ourselves. We need time to reflect and adjust and reverse course if the need should arise.

    That being said, the slow pace of change can be pretty frustrating. One clear example of this is our air-traffic-control system. The Capital Journal recently wrote about some the tribulations now affecting our national air-traffic-control system. Specifically, the story was about the battle being waged over whether to privatize the system or to leave it in federal hands and continue to make upgrades at taxpayers’ expense.

    The problem is that the Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for air-traffic control, has had quite a bit of trouble paying for 21st-century technology to replace the existing, 40-year-old infrastructure. That project, updating a system that ensures some 50,000 aircraft land and take off successfully every day, is by its very nature complex and ever changing.

    Federal failures to improve the system, some, including President Donald Trump, say, is grounds to hand air-traffic control over to private enterprise. Privatising air-traffic control would make the whole system more nimble, easier to upgrade and cheaper for the average taxpayer, advocates say. They’re out pushing a bill, the 21st Century AIRR Act, currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives that would give the air-traffic-control system to a non-profit corporation.

    The AIRR Act supporters’ main selling point is that making air-traffic control easier to change and cheaper to upgrade, would eventually mean fewer flight delays. A more efficient, technology- current system could handle more traffic, too, they say.

    Anyone who has flown anywhere in the past 10 or 15 years likely has been subjected to some kind of delay or other. They’re no fun and lead to lost time and money for everyone involved. Reducing their number is a laudable goal.

    Of course, the AIRR Act’s supporters leave out a few key details. For example, a runway can only hold one plane at a time and yet, at larger airports, multiple flights often are scheduled to take off at exactly the same time. Air-traffic controllers don’t set departure schedules. Airlines set departure schedules.

    There are plenty of folks arrayed against the AIRR Act. Their reasons are varied, but for those who work in general aviation, a category that covers everything from crop spraying to private pilots, the problem is that the non-profit board would put too much control of air traffic into the hands of large airlines. This could very well lead to a loss of resources for smaller, less- profitable airports and user fees above and beyond the aviation-fuel excise tax that they already pay. General aviation already has become more expensive in countries that have privatised air- traffic control. More fees could also make business aviation more expensive.

    This could be a big deal in Pierre. General and business aviation account for the vast majority of traffic at our airport. On the third weekend in October, it’s not uncommon to see tens of millions of dollars worth of aircraft sitting on the tarmac.

    Through the rest of the year, medical specialists are regularly flown in, hospital patients are flown out to higher levels of care, packages arrive, crops are sprayed and the list goes on. Our airport’s scheduled passenger service is operated by a pretty small company, too.

    Anything that threatens to curtail the traffic that our airport sees, should concern everyone in Pierre and Fort Pierre. Is privatisation the right way to go? Maybe. But not if it jeopardizes our airport.