ATC Privatization: Stay Alert

Proponents of privatizing the FAA’s Air Traffic Service take no break from the deceptive, disingenuous dogma they hope will fool the uninformed. Stay alert...!

Dave Higdon  |  21st August 2017
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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ATC Tower

Alphabet groups urge attention from BizAv users

Heading towards September, Dave Higdon notes proponents of privatizing the FAA’s Air Traffic Service are taking no break from the drumbeat of deceptive, disingenuous dogma with which they hope to fool the uninformed…

Consider the woefully inaccurate piece penned by Ian Adams and published in the August 7 edition of The Hill. Under the erroneous headline “End Corporate Welfare in the Sky”, Adams begins by immediately misleading readers.

Of H.R. 2997 – the laughably named 21st Century AIRR Act – Adams falsely labels Congress as considering “sorely-needed modernization efforts” when the bill is solely about taking the Air Traffic Service out of the FAA and giving control of it to an ill-defined private board of directors. There's nothing about modernization in it.

Adams also falsely claims that Business Aviation users don't pay their fair share for using ATC – which anyone who has actually flown both privately and commercially knows is untrue.

Airlines pay the least. For example, a private BBJ operator pays more in Fuel Excise Taxes to fly that Boeing 737 derivative in the system than an airline pays in fuel taxes flying the same model 737 while carrying passengers – for profit. How can that be? Simple: Airlines pay substantially less in aviation jet fuel Federal Excise Tax (FET) than private aviation (4.4 cents per gallon for airlines, 21.9 cents per gallon for private jets).

Passengers, not airlines, pay the majority of the costs of ATC. The FET that passengers pay on their air fare stands at 7.5%; another $4 passengers pay goes to a Segment Fee. There's also the September 11th Security Fee – another $5.60 per one-way flight. Airlines pay none of these fees.

More Blowing Snow

Adams repeats the well-discredited line that ATC “still relies on ground-based radar systems that were first developed during World War II". The US hasn't used WWII radar in decades; radar, which will always have at least a small role in air-traffic management, has advanced several generations in Adams' lifetime.

Today, ADS-B is transitioning to replace radar in all but a few instances, a transition started years ago. The ground stations are long finished and working; they're wired to controllers' screens. FAA still uses radar because users (airlines among them) have until January 1, 2020 to equip for ADS-B.

And right now, no segment of aviation trails more in making this change than the airlines. So much for the speedy ability of the private sector.

The rest of the world is also transitioning to ADS-B and most of them are not yet fully converted. The FAA has managed this monumental task without ATC being privatized - though consistent funding would have helped its progress, however...

Correcting the Record...

Five days after Ian Adams' misleading and inaccurate piece, Ed Bolen, NBAA President & CEO sought to correct the record. One of Bolen's best notes countered Adams' contention that business jet users are the sole opponents to ATC privatization:

“NBAA is joined in opposing privatization by a majority of the American public, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives, over 100 business leaders and more than 100 US mayors, as well as consumer groups, government watchdogs, think tanks on the political right and left, and more than 100 other aviation industry groups.”

Bolen also noted that Adams completely ignored a number of government studies which show that the users of these smaller aircraft pay equitably for their use of the aviation system.

All this is to point out that even though politics today seem to engender a negative reaction in almost everyone, proponents of keeping ATC the ‘all-users-welcome system’ we have today can't slack off simply because Congress is in recess until after Labor Day.

Lawmakers are visiting their states and districts – which is a good place to make your voice heard. If your lawmaker holds a town meeting, go and express your feelings. Visit their district offices, call them and call their Washington offices. And use this one-stop-shop for communicating your support for keeping air-traffic control a public asset:

The people who want to turn ATC into an asset for their businesses aren't slacking off; we shouldn't slack off, either. It's our system to lose.

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