Bolen: Educate the Public on the ATC Takeover Attempt

June 29, 2016
NBAA President Ed Bolen is calling for members of the business and general aviation community to keep pressure on lawmakers to toss out the ATC privatization bill.

With the July 15, deadline looming on the end of FAA’s authority and still no action by federal leaders, organizations representing general aviation and business aviation interests are urging members to make sure an airline takeover of the national air traffic control system (ATC) is stifled.

“We’re not about as a country to take our highway system and turn it over to the trucking industry and allow them to make all the decisions related to that,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). “Our public airspace is supposed to serve the public good. It belongs to the public. The public’s elected representatives need to make sure it’s not taken away and run by a private board for their special interest.

“We need to make sure people know that.”

Bolen address the concept of ATC privatization during a Wisconsin Business Aviation Association (WBAA) meeting June 23, at Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 838 hangar located at Batten International Airport (RAC) in Racine, Wis. Several dozen business and general aviation members attended the event where Bolen and EAA CEO Jack Pelton spoke about the current challenges of the industry.

The ATC privatization issue has been debated for more than 20 years, Bolen said. It failed in the 1990s, then came back in 2006, where it failed again.

It reemerged in February as part of a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and while the rhetoric has changed, Bolen said it’s the exact same bill from 20 years ago.

“Whenever you hear the word privatization, it conjures up images of competition, innovation, free markets. It sounds pretty good. That’s not what we’re talking about in this case,” he said. “In our air traffic control system, we’re talking about a monopoly.”

He said the U.S. has the best general aviation environment in the entire world, which supports more than 1.1 million jobs and gives economic access to rural areas located outside of major hub airport zones.
The concern is airlines would solely focus on the main 35 hubs, while rural aviation funding would wither away. Bolen said this isn’t an irrational fear.

“This takes our nation’s air traffic control monopoly and moves it from the public elected officials to some board of special interests that the airlines are expected to dominate,” Bolen said. “Our fear is they can use that control to constantly reduce our access to airports and airspace.”

Pelton said there’s potential for major issues with access because companies like Google and Amazon, which are interested in running UAVs as part of their business, could potentially take control of the Class D airspace if the bill became law.

“The bill that was being introduced to Congress was an on purpose effort to really isolate and pick winners and losers and they wanted to move general aviation out of the discussion by saying ‘don’t worry, we’ll give you whatever you need, just let us take control of the NAS,’” he said. “Now think about that. Here in Wisconsin, probably some of the best flying we have is in the non-controlled airspace. It’s the recreational flying we all love and enjoy.”

Pelton also warned there are concerns without long-term stability in an FAA bill because it gives federal officials more latitude to look for new funding mechanism. Although fuel taxes are supposed to fund the tower operations at EAA’s AirVenture event, Pelton said the organization had to pay more than $600,000 this year alone in what he said amounts to “double taxation.”

If such rates continued, he said there’s a potential the show would need to stop as it could start losing money.

“I get very passionate and frustrated by this whole process because it’s kind of insulting to us as taxpayers in some regards because it is a true monopoly,” Pelton said. “What they’re talking about, there’s over $30 billion in assets that you and I and those before us paid for to create this NAS system and the discussion gets talked about selling off these assets. Where does that money go?”

Bolen said NBAA will continue to fight the bill, especially given another version of FAA reauthorization introduced in the U.S. Senate passed 95-3 due to the lack of the controversial privatization stipulation.

“Actually, a lot of what was introduced in the house bill is good stuff. There’s certification reform, there’s third-class medical reform, there’s privacy issues that are good, there’s some security stuff out there, some stuff related to drones, all and all, a pretty good bill,” he said. “But they also introduced into that bill what we call a poison pill.

“(I)t looks like to us that they took a poison pill, wrapped it in a lot of sugar coating and said ‘here’s what we want to pass.’”