Letters to Media

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NBAA Challenges Economist's Support for ATC Privatization

Aug. 17, 2016

When The Economist magazine recently published a lengthy editorial supporting the creation of a privatized air traffic control (ATC) system in the U.S., NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen was quick to respond, with a letter noting the breadth and depth of concern over the concept: “Your recent editorial missed a few key points,” Bolen noted, including that, “The idea of ATC privatization has faced serious concerns and misgivings from congressional lawmakers, consumer groups, rural and free-market coalitions, community officials, and others.”

Dear Editor,

Your recent editorial, “Antiquated Air Traffic Control Systems are Becoming a Serious Threat to Safety,” missed a few key points about the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and privatizing air traffic control (ATC).

The idea of ATC privatization has faced serious concerns and misgivings from congressional lawmakers, consumer groups, rural and free-market coalitions, community officials, and others, for good cause. Under the legislation your editorial supports, the airlines – the object of routine complaints about anti-consumer behavior, anti-competitive practices and other troubling activities – would gain sweeping authority over a newly created ATC monopoly.

Of course, the airlines have long supported and lobbied for the idea of having effective control over the ATC system. That’s because, once they are granted such authority, they will make the decisions about which communities get ATC service, where investments are made, and a host of other matters. The effect, in many instances, could be to stifle, not foster, efficiency, innovation and competition.

In other words, putting the airlines in charge of the air traffic system would promote a focus not on what’s in the public interest, but in the airlines’ business interests. Any glance over recent news headlines illustrates this point: the public has been confronted with widespread technical outages and passenger strandings – realities that should give anyone pause.

Last but not least, your editorial curiously neglected to mention that in April, the U.S. Senate passed widely supported, bipartisan legislation, which would ensure ongoing funding of the FAA and important infrastructure projects, and help to move the ball forward on ATC modernization. That legislation, which sets targeted solutions to identified challenges, presents an opportunity for congress to implement a policy that would benefit all American citizens (who, by the way, oppose ATC modernization by a nearly two-to-one margin).

Making sure the United States has the best aviation system now and in the future is everyone’s responsibility. But, simply turning over the ATC system to a private board, effectively controlled by the airlines, isn’t the answer.

Ed Bolen
President and CEO
National Business Aviation Association