Washington Report: Privatized ATC upsets controllers

 - July 15, 2008, 9:14 AM

Even the hint of a privatized ATC system in the Bush Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2003 has “angered and disappointed” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca). And AOPA is not too happy either.

Buried in the DOT’s budget proposal is a reference to the planned performance-based organization (PBO), which would run the ATC system. If the yet-to-be-formed PBO is not effective after a year of operation, the budget language says “the department will look to other options, including partial privatization and franchise operation of components of the air traffic system.”

Natca said this is the second consecutive year that the Administration has released a proposed budget supporting the concept of privatizing the system. “This is ludicrous,” said Natca president John Carr. “Before September 11, privatization was simply a foolish idea with serious implications for the safety of our system. Now it’s downright reckless and irresponsible to even consider playing games with the safety and security of the service we provide.”

AOPA president Phil Boyer concurred: “If aviation didn’t have enough to be concerned about in the post-September 11 environment, it now seems that privatization is creeping back up through all of the security concerns.”

Following the attacks, controllers at each of the FAA’s 325 facilities needed just over two hours to clear the airspace of 4,546 aircraft, Natca noted. It further said that both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey have praised controllers’ work as essential to national security.

Since that day, Natca said its members have been given added responsibilities related to homeland security, including surveillance “of every inch” of U.S. airspace, which includes nuclear power plants, city centers, the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl.

“The Administration talks about franchising parts of our system,” said Carr. “Look, this is not Burger King, where you can have it your way. I find it hard to believe that baggage screeners are now federal employees but yet this Administration would consider franchising air traffic control. It’s a very bad idea.”

According to the controllers union, last year the Bush Administration proposed a
study of the “success” of privatized systems in other countries. But Natca argued that the events of September have caused “big problems” for the world’s privatized systems.

It said that Nav Canada announced last fall that it would seek to raise its fees by 6 percent to help cover a projected $145 million revenue shortfall, and “the newly part-privatized system in Great Britain has been a complete failure, with government now under increasing pressure to bail out the partnership.”