Advocacy Groups Form Coalition To Oppose ATC 'Privatization'

 - January 26, 2016, 4:18 PM
Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization fears the Republican-controlled Congress will privatize the ATC system. (Photo: Bill Carey)

A coalition of liberal advocacy groups has emerged that opposes a move within the U.S. Congress to create a new entity separate of the Federal Aviation Administration to manage the nation’s ATC system. Calling itself Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization, the coalition declared that it has an online petition signed by 130,000 people that it will deliver to Congress as that body deliberates the next FAA reauthorization bill.

In a conference call on January 26, principals of the coalition said they suspect that lawmakers will seek to privatize the ATC system to benefit the airlines—an outcome that general aviation groups including the National Business Aviation Association also fear. With the notable exception of Delta Air Lines, major U.S. carriers represented by trade organization Airlines for America (A4A) back the formation of a “federally chartered, not-for-profit corporation” that would operate independently of the FAA to run the ATC system.

Leading the conference call were two Democrats who sit on the Republican-controlled House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate to Congress who represents the District of Columbia. Both called for a bipartisan accord on ATC reform, saying they oppose any move to privatize the system.

“The system that we have now under the current regulations has been a very strong, effective and efficient system,” said Cummings. “We don’t need to create a governmental entity to oversee air traffic control, and we certainly don’t need to give airlines more power over the aviation system, which is precisely what they would get under the Republicans’ proposal as we know it.”

Cummings added: “Americans know that the only so-called innovations that the airlines have made in recent years are corporate consolidations that have resulted in fare increases and the introduction of hidden fees for everything from aisle seats to checked bags to stale coffee. Americans already dread the experience of air travel, and giving the airlines yet more power over the aviation system will not make flying any better or easier.”

Andrea Miller, executive director of the organization People Demanding Action charged that A4A and the libertarian Reason Foundation are lobbying Congress for ATC privatization. “There’s one group pushing this plan and that group stands to benefit the most by corporate consolidation of power—Airlines for America,” she said. For its part, the Reason Foundation “is driving a conservative, ideological plan through Congress.”

Miller cited a study the National Air Traffic Controllers Association commissioned in 2003 by Columbia University Professor Elliot Sclar which found that ATC privatization would be detrimental for workers and users of the system. She added that other groups “are making their voices heard” in opposing a new ATC entity, including Delta, the NBAA, the Air Care Alliance and the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

The founding organizations of the coalition are: Public Citizen, People Demanding Action, Daily Kos, Progressive Congress, American Family Voices, RootAction.org, and the Courage Campaign.

Responding to the coalition’s conference call, A4A issued a statement saying that Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization “is arguing against positions no one is taking. Proponents of reform advocate for a not-for-profit organization that will be overseen by the FAA and governed by a board inclusive of all stakeholders, including employee unions, general aviation and private fliers, and passengers. That’s the way air traffic services are run in most of the rest of the world. We want to see more air traffic controllers hired. We want to make the system even more safe. And most importantly, we want to make flying better for the traveling public. Members of Congress should want the same thing.”