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Bolen Tells Industry Gathering: NextGen Concerns Don't Justify Rush to Privatization

April 7, 2014

At a major industry forum hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and held in Washington, DC on April 3, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen issued a forceful reminder that concerns and critiques about the work being done to continue implementation of aviation modernization don’t justify a rush to privatize the world’s best aviation system.

Those attending the forum, held in the Washington Convention Center, included the CEOs of every major U.S. airline, along with other aviation-industry leaders, as well as top figures in government, including Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole.

Bolen participated in a Chamber forum panel discussion focused on the provocative Next Generation question: “why don’t we get it done?” The panel was moderated by Robert Crandall, former chairman and CEO of AMR Corporation and American Airlines. Other panelists included Paul Rinaldi, president, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA); Steve Van Beek, executive director policy and strategy, Leigh Fisher; and Robert Poole, director transportation policy, Reason Foundation.

When the panelists’ discussion touched upon the matter of whether privatizing the aviation system would be best for accelerating NextGen, Bolen said: “We all agree that NextGen is one of the most important things we can do as a country for our future. In the business aviation community, we’ve been enormously forward-leaning in trying to accomplish NextGen – I think where we diverge is in thinking that in order to get NextGen we have to privatize.

“We have to ask the hard questions first,” he continued. “We have the world’s largest, safest, most efficient, most diverse and most complex air-transportation system in the world. We cannot just assume that a model that works well in Canada or some other part of the world is going to work well here.

We don’t just ‘have to do it,’ we have to do it right,” Bolen continued. “Privatization is not a silver bullet. The space above our heads ought to remain publicly managed for the benefit of the public.”

The panel also discussed the need for regulatory overhaul, particularly in processing certifications of new aircraft and aviation technologies.

While Bolen acknowledged these challenges facing the FAA, he cited NextGen progress, including flight-approach improvements like the “greener skies” initiatives in Atlanta and Seattle, and pointed to provisions in the most recent FAA reauthorization that are making possible a consolidation process, beginning with an evaluation of air traffic control towers and other facilities.

NATCA’s Rinaldi agreed, saying that the nation’s air traffic controllers support consolidation “that makes good business sense.” The process will get underway this year with 40 to 50 facilities, he said.

The priority, Bolen said, is that “we need to agree on the issues that are preventing us from getting there.” Right now, even if more federal funding was suddenly available, “we don’t have a plan going forward as to what we would do with the extra $10 billion,” he added.

“The good news is I think we’re coming together,” Bolen concluded. “But I don’t think we’re at a point where can say we know how much more money is needed to complete NextGen.”