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Bolen Tells State Aviation Officials: ATC Privatization Is Not Modernization

Sept. 14, 2017

There is “a bright line of distinction” separating the need to modernize the nation's ATC system and airline-supported calls to privatize ATC services, said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen as he spoke to a gathering of state aviation directors on Sept. 12.

“NBAA fully supports modernization of the national airspace system,” Bolen stated during a panel discussion at the 86th annual convention of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) in Point Clear, AL. “However, like most Americans, we are adamantly against ATC privatization. No matter how much the airlines try to blur the lines between them, these are two separate and distinct issues.”

Bolen cited three federal watchdog groups that have recently expressed concerns or outright opposition to ATC privatization. The Congressional Research Service has raised questions about the proposal’s constitutionality, while the Congressional Budget Office estimated that shifting to a privatized ATC system would add $100 billion to the nation’s budget deficit. The Government Accountability Office stated that a move to privatization would likely delay modernization efforts.

“These are three congressionally funded, non-partisan organizations that have all done deep-dive analyses of the bill (H.R. 2997), and have articulated fundamental concerns,” he said. “Privatization only distracts from the very important conversation about ATC modernization.”

Bolen participated in the panel discussion with Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), and a supporter of H.R.2997, the bill that calls for the creation of a private entity to govern ATC services.

While NASAO is among the more than 150 aviation groups opposing privatization, attendees welcomed the chance to engage with those on both sides on the issue. Dr. John Eagerton, chief of the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Bureau, told Rinaldi, “We want you to have the resources you need. You have an ally in this room if you'll change the discussion away from privatization.”

“The highest levels of customer service and professionalism have been the benchmarks of ATC culture throughout my 50 years of flying,” said Texas DOT Aviation Director David Fulton. “My greatest concern is that would change under the type of [privatized] management structure being proposed.”

Bolen acknowledged common ground with NATCA on the importance of a predictable and stable funding stream for the FAA and the need to modernize the ATC system. “That said,” continued Bolen, “there are ways to address these important issues without privatization.

“As Congress looks to vote on H.R.2997 in the coming days, NBAA remains resolute on defeating this bill,” he concluded. “We must ensure that all concerned understand the perils of taking the largest, safest, and most diverse ATC system in the world and handing it to an unelected board, not accountable to congressional oversight on behalf of the public interest, and dominated by the big airlines.”

NBAA members have mobilized in opposition to H.R. 2997. The association’s Contact Congress resource provides a means for using email and social media to alert lawmakers to the industry’s opposition to the bill. In addition, a toll-free action line – 1-833-GA-VOICE – connects constituents with elected representatives to express opposition to the legislation.

More than 100 aviation groups also oppose ATC privatization, and have joined in supporting a dedicated website – ATCNotforSale.com – where citizens can also learn more about the threat from ATC privatization, and contact their elected officials to oppose H.R. 2997. A Facebook page – Air Traffic Control – ATC Not for Sale – provides regular updates about the concerns over ATC privatization.