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A Host of Newspapers Question Impact of ATC Privatization

June 16, 2017

News outlets across the country are questioning President Trump's June 5 call for privatizing the nation's ATC system, with numerous editorial boards voicing opposition to the concept, which would replace congressional oversight of the nation's airports and airspace with a private board dominated by the airlines.

As one example, the Seattle (WA) Times noted that, “our current system, run by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), guided 8.7 million flights in 2015.... It's among the safest such systems in the world.” The editorial further noted that privatization would result in a system, “where airlines, already heavily subsidized and benefiting from decades of virtually no antitrust enforcement to ensure competition, gain even more power.” View the Seattle Times editorial.

Noting that a similar ATC privatization bid last year was “shot down in the Senate amid concerns from Democrats and Republicans,” the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review emphasized that “questions about the issue still need to be addressed.” The paper also referred to a Government Accountability Office report on the matter that “raised salient concerns,” including the specter of commercial flights being given priority over other operators.

“What are the ramifications for medevac aircraft or planes fighting wildfires?” the paper asked. “How would this private entity coordinate with the military? If it faltered, would the government bail it out?” View the Spokane Spokesman-Review editorial.

The Lexington (KY) Herald-Dispatch noted the potential ramifications from ATC privatization to small and mid-size communities.

“Small towns and cities, especially those dependent on manufacturing, could lose if Congress goes along with President Donald Trump's push to privatize control of the airways,” the paper stated. “Kentucky has 59 public airports. They are vital to local economies and public safety, though only a handful are in big enough markets to support commercial flights.” View the Lexington Herald-Dispatch article.

“There are plenty of ways to reduce the role of government,” added the Midwest City (OK) Journal Record. “Air traffic control isn't one of those, and when the government is good at something – national defense, food safety and space exploration come to mind – the best idea is to let the government do it.” The paper further noted NBAA's opposition to the plan that “would give too much power to the airlines, which would hold board positions.” View the Midwest City Journal Record article.

“President Trump's proposal to privatize America's air traffic control system deserves a serious discussion,” stated the Baker City (OR) Herald. “But we think it's important to remember that in the most vital metric – safety – the current system, run by the Federal Aviation Administration, has a sterling record... And if [that system] were the abject failure the president implies it is, it seems improbable that the airlines' safety streak would have lasted so long.” View the Baker City Herald editorial.

Other newspapers voicing concerns with ATC privatization include the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch and the Buffalo (NY) News. The Portland (OR) Mercury noted, “Overhauling air traffic control in this way would be a huge undertaking of questionable value.”