Noah Kroloff, Guest Column THE CLARION-LEDGER
Privatizing Air Traffic Control Could Jeopardize Safety in Disasters
October 17, 2017
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  • As Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico begin the long and difficult process of recovering from the massive hurricanes that besieged them, it’s clear each will need our Nation’s attention and support.

    Harvey, Irma and Maria spotlighted, once again, the importance of emergency response in this country. It’s a service you don’t think you need, until you do. As Houstonians, Floridians and Puerto Ricans rose to the occasion, taking care of neighbor and stranger alike, emergency responders rushed into these storms to help every disaster victim they could find.

    As the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal agency that oversees FEMA and disaster preparation, response and recovery, I helped work on the Federal response to Superstorm Sandy in the East, tornadoes in the Midwest, ice storms in the North, floods in the South and everything in between.

    While discussions about properly funding current relief efforts are important and necessary, we also need to be talking about the role general aviation plays in our nation’s ability to respond quickly in times of emergency and how air traffic control (ATC) privatization could jeopardize this resiliency.

    The proximity of small general aviation airports to rural regions allows responders and supplies to reach more remote areas of impact quickly.  In Houston, for example, the roads to some flood-damaged areas were impassable for days after the hurricane hit. Citizen pilots and plane owners played a key role in ferrying necessary supplies, expeditiously, to those who needed them.

    More than 2,900 general aviation facilities support emergency response efforts. America’s resilience is significantly enhanced by general aviation facilities. And the stability of these facilities will be dramatically impacted should our air traffic control system be privatized.

    A private ATC, currently supported by the Trump Administration and some on Capitol Hill, will be able to impose new fees and taxes that could disadvantage smaller airports. Commercial airlines, that would be on the board of the new entity, have indicated publicly that they would consider reallocating resources to where the greatest profit can be driven.  Not surprisingly, these areas are the urban population centers in the US. This leaves our rural, hard-to-reach areas — like those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — at risk and with little recourse in times of emergency.

    Hurricanes and other natural disasters are indiscriminate in their devastation, hitting rural and urban, rich and poor, populated and unpopulated areas alike. Our preparedness and response capacity must be equally indiscriminate.

    Noah Kroloff served as chief of staff of the US Department of Homeland Security from 2009-2013 and as deputy chief of staff to Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.