Top executives from five general aviation organizations joined NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen Tuesday morning at the 2017 edition of the NBAA convention in opposition to proposed legislation that would privatize the U.S. air traffic control system. Calling the measure “potentially the biggest threat we have ever seen,” Bolen welcomed his counterparts to the stage at the annual No Plane No Gain Media Kick-Off Breakfast to brief attendees on the status of industry efforts to fight the legislation.
Mark Baker, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA); Jack Pelton, chairman and CEO of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA); Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA); Matt Zuccaro, president and CEO of Helicopter Association International (HAI); and Marty Hiller, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), joined Bolen to share their organizations' observations and report on their joint efforts in opposing the bill, H.R. 2997, the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act.
Labeling as an “ugly caricature” a video produced by the legislation's supporters—Citizens For On-Time Flights, which is backed by the U.S. airline industry—Bolen introduced the general aviation industry's response, a video presenting well-known personalities like former NASA astronaut and Apollo 13 commander James A. Lovell and U.S. Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. The general aviation industry's video points out that the U.S. ATC system is the largest, safest and most efficient in the world, and that efforts to privatize it are hiding the real agenda: the “airline-ization” of ATC, a term coined by NATA's Hiller.
EAA's Pelton agreed with Bolen, calling the legislation's potential outcome “catastrophic.” Pelton also pointed out that three major federal congressional support agencies have found problems with the bill. For example, the Congressional Research Service determined the bill potentially was unconstitutional.
Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office in turn analyzed the bill and found it would add $100 billion to the federal government's budget deficit. And the U.S. Government Accountability Office said that privatization could delay implementation of the FAA's NextGen modernization program, directly countering a key selling point of the bill's supporters.
AOPA's Baker pointed out that, while the bill's recent failure to move to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives indicates the general and business aviation industry has momentum, time is on the side of privatization proponents. The bill's supporters “don't have the votes at the moment,” Baker said, but pointed out that as fatigue potentially sets in among the general aviation industry, the fight “won't be over without a change in leadership” in Congress.
“The airlines want to run the system for their exclusive benefit,” Bolen concluded as he thanked his counterparts for their ongoing efforts and their presence at the breakfast. “It's not enough to be right,” he added, reminding attendees of the misleading statements and information being distributed by the bill's supporters. All six associations, he noted, have joined in creating a website—www.atcnotforsale.com—that can be used for additional information, talking points and for contacting federal elected officials. He encouraged all convention attendees and employees of companies with a stake in the U.S. ATC system to use the website to contact Congress: “Do not leave this convention without making sure your members of Congress know how you feel,” Bolen concluded.