Dave Higdon reflects on President Trump's Air Traffic Control Day statement on the modernization of the service. Privatization was notably absent, but an old catchphrase to 'Trust and Verify' may be the best path forward here...
Absent from much of the news stories straddling Independence Day was notice of Air Traffic Control Day on July 6. In truth, it was somewhat drowned by the weight of the July 4 celebrations. Nonetheless, the aviation community took notice of the President's message on ATC Day, and particularly the vow to continue modernization of the service.
The community heralded something that was absent from that brief message: Any mention of privatizing ATC as part of that effort.
Perhaps the White House noticed and (in a back-handed way) signaled its surrender to the will of most Americans to leave ATC in the hands of the FAA. At least, the President's statement reads that way:
“Given the important responsibility air traffic controllers have to ensure the safety of millions of travelers and tons of cargo, their vital role in transportation safety and our economy cannot be overstated. That is why my Administration continues to pursue the modernization of our Nation’s air traffic control services. Making targeted investments in next generation technology systems will improve the delivery of air traffic control services for the benefit of the traveling public. We must ensure that air traffic controllers have access to the technology they need to effectively and efficiently manage our Nation’s airspace.”
Trust but Verify
Several times between 1984 and 1987 American writer Suzanne Massie met with President Ronald Reagan to help him learn and better understand how to communicate with his opposite in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev ahead of their summits in 1985 and 1988.
The topic of strategic arms limitation brought about signed agreements to limit nuclear arsenals on both sides, with a mechanism to keep everyone honest: Verification. “Trust but verify,” Reagan quipped, using a Russian proverb taught to him my Massie.
The line caught on, becoming a catchphrase. Now, once again, it holds relevance for those opposed to handing control of ATC over to any entity outside the FAA.
That's exactly the action Americans need to repeat where ATC privatization and this Administration are concerned because those supportive of ATC privatization have already shown their resistance to surrendering on the most-sought-after outcome of A4A, the airlines' trade group.
Given the President's affinity for privatizing government functions, and the latent support for ATC privatization by a few in the House of Representatives, diligence remains the watchword to prevent any sneak-attack. While we want to believe the President sees the light, our only safe path forward could be to trust but verify.
Now, Congress, how about finishing up one critical job: Passing a five-year reauthorization of the FAA itself? The agency could certainly use the stability and predictability of its funding, for NextGen and more.