The Helicopter Association International (HAI) announced its formal opposition in a joint letter to the president stated in a press release dated June 5th, 2017 that joined together with other national organizations in opposing privatization of the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system that asked for further dialog and inclusion in any future plans.
Multiple organizations including HAI, EAA, ICAS, AOPA, NBAA and the NAAA signed a joint letter to President Donald Trump this week that expressed concerns that the plan would directly and significantly benefit the airline industry while destabilizing the current successful ATC system and raising costs through user fees that would be passed on to consumers.
“All stakeholders on both sides of this issue acknowledge that we already have the safest, most efficient air traffic control system in the world,” said Matt Zuccaro, president and CEO of HAI. “So what problem are they trying to solve?”
“This initiative appears to be an effort by the airlines for more control of the airspace and the airports,” continued Zuccaro. “As we all witness the airlines struggling with their own internal technology issues and related problems, does it really make sense to hand over control of the best ATC system in the world to them?”
Part of the administration’s stated reason for pushing privatization is the FAA’s delay in rolling out NextGen technology, its plan to update U.S. air traffic control. The helicopter industry has already embraced, implemented, and benefited from the initial phase of the new NextGen technology put in place by the FAA.
HAI respectfully disagrees with President Trump’s description regarding the available technology within the current system. “The President’s concern about flight delays being caused by the lack of system advancements is puzzling in light of the findings of Rep. Peter Defazio (D-Ore.), the ranking minority member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who found that the airlines themselves cause approximately 60 percent of flight delays,” said Zuccaro.
“If the supporters of a private ATC are sincerely interested in improving ATC technology, let’s privatize the technological development and implementation portion of ATC and keep the world’s best-operating ATC system where it belongs, under the control and watchful eye of the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress,” said Zuccaro.
While the Trump administration says its ATC privatization plan will save the American public money, there is no clear explanation how that would happen or how much money will be saved.
The administration’s plan would cancel the existing aviation taxes that currently fund ATC and transfer to a user fee system. What is left unsaid was what those user fees would be; the amount of funding required to set up, transition to, and support the private ATC entity; and the effect of user fees on flight activity and associated revenue. The economic viability of ATC privatization and its ultimate effect on the public and industry is unknown.
“The Administration wants you to think this issue is only about technology and safety that will benefit all stakeholders,” said Zuccaro. “In my view, it’s a move to give control of the air traffic control system to the airlines. I found it interesting that the President chose to surround himself with representatives of the airlines at his announcement, during which he failed to even mention general aviation.
“It seems obvious that a private ATC entity controlled by an oversight board with a majority of seats held by the airlines will support their own initiatives and interests to the detriment of general aviation and other affected parties,” Zuccaro said.
“Advancing the latest technology into the U.S. air traffic control system is a great idea that will benefit all parties and which HAI supports. Privatizing ATC and relinquishing control of the system to one stakeholder is not. This plan doesn’t fix the NextGen issue; instead it destabilizes our current, world-class ATC system and passes on the cost to consumers.” he added.
HAI said in the press release “HAI hopes that the current proposal will spark a meaningful conversation between all aviation stakeholders and the Trump administration and Congress.” The association also expressing a need for all the concerned agencies to work together to achieve the common goal of a National Airspace System that has technology that is second to none, equal access for all stakeholders, and a top priority of safety.
Although opposition to the suggested system is high in its current form in the United States, in discussions with pilots and operators in other countries such as Australia, pilots see little issue with the privately run air traffic control systems provided by companies such as Air Services Australia, who runs air traffic control services throughout the Australian continent. It remains to be seen how inclusive that the current administration is willing to be in allowing each of the many bodies that take issue with the current plan to provide input in what a fair and equal privatized system will look like in the United States or if the President is willing to entertain convening a working group to assist in solving the many problems mentioned by the concerned groups as the FAA has done previously with aviation concerns such as drone technology.
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Ryan Mason is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of Heliweb Magazine. Ryan has worked in aviation media for the last nine years as a photographer and journalist, providing written and photographic content for multiple international aviation publications covering both fixed wing and helicopters. Ryan has also written for law enforcement publications on tactics, equipment and airborne law enforcement, drawing on his years of experience as a police officer in the Midwest United States. You can reach Ryan at email@example.com