Legislative Action, Your Voice Counts
To Privatize or Not to Privatize?
By Mark Spencer
While the Arizona Pilots Association is primarily focused on state level activities, so important is the proposal to privatize ATC in the federal house FAA re-authorization bill, H.B. 2997, that we became involved to have our voice heard in DC, and heard it was! Our call to action was heeded and, thanks to your calls to your legislators, made easy by NBAA’s automated dial in system, raised eyebrows in DC, resulting in our invitation by Congresswoman McSally’s office to a conference call with federal legislators. The call was hosted by none other than the bill’s chief proponent and chairman of the transportation committee, Congressman Bill Shuster, along with long time GA advocate and co-chair of the GA caucus, Congressman Sam Graves. In our role with the RAF, Stefanie and I enjoyed dinner with Congressman Graves a couple of years ago in DC. Sam is an avid pilot, and owns a Super Cub, RV 8, and a T-6. I also invited State Representative District 10, Todd Clodfelter, to the call. Todd is co-chairing a new GA caucus at the state level this year.
A primary part of the discussion was the safeguards for GA that Congressman Graves had placed in the bill. While these safeguards, primarily protecting GA from user fees and potential air space restrictions, do indeed exist in the bill, we still feel the bill is fundamentally flawed in its assumption that only 1 seat out of 13 as a voice for the little guys of part 91 will have any meaningful influence over the decisions of a board heavily weighted towards commercial transport. A concern that we heard in the frustration from Graves and Shuster were that many of the 120 organizations, now 130, that have come out against the bill are just following the lead of the big four, AOPA, EAA, NBAA and GAMA, but nothing could be further from the truth with the APA. Indeed, we have read the bill, and we’ve also participated in discussions with leadership of all the above and several other state organizations, as well as lengthy discussions with staff of congressional proponents. Our position is based squarely in the data we have analyzed, including the effects privatization has had on GA in every other country where it has become the model.
A particular concern of ours is the area of unintended consequences. Of course, we could speculate about these until the cows come home. On another conference call with the same team above, Montana congressman Tyson Weihs, co-founder of ForeFlight, participated and explained that if we had already been privatized, as Canada is now (a model that proponents point to), ForeFlight would have never been. Tyson went on to explain how the board controlling the privatized Canadian ATC would not even meet with his team without a $100,000 up front fee just to discuss ForeFlight’s need for data. They paid the fee and indeed met, learning that all the data they requested was considered the property of the private ATC organization and would come only with a higher price. In the states, this data is all public domain, making the birth of ForeFlight possible here. When asked who would own the data going forward in a privatized U.S. ATC, the congressmen admitted that they had not considered that. One proponent’s greatest drive for privatization is modernization, yet none of us would argue that with ForeFlight, a GPS, and perhaps ADS-B, any aircraft can enjoy as modern a technology in the cockpit as any airliner, a technology that would never of come to fruition under a privatized system. What other unintended consequences may lurk?
Perhaps the most telling question was, as asked by RAF Chairman John McKenna on the Montana call, “Do any of you believe that these conference calls would be taking place around the country with you gentlemen if ATC was already privatized?” This question was met with absolute silence.
Another red flag is the list of organizations supporting the bill shows very few aviation organizations, but dozens of organizations that have little to no knowledge of aviation, for example,
National Center for Policy Analysis, American Opportunity/Free Congress Foundation, National Disability Rights Network, American Society of Travel Agents, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Americans for Prosperity, National Federation of the Blind, Americans for Prosperity, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Americans for Tax Reform, National Retail Federation (NRF), and on.
One can only assume that the buzzword of “privatization” is all that these orgs are hanging their hat on. Take a look for yourself here: https://transportation.house.gov/21st-century-airr-act/letters-of-support.htm
As for me personally, I also lean strongly towards limited and appropriate government, an ideology that favors buzzwords like privatization, but in this particular, in my opinion, we are talking about public property and liberty itself, in that ATC controls our freedom to move about freely in our aircraft. This makes our airspace one domain where I believe government actually needs to step up to the plate and do its job! One of the primary reasons Shuster, Graves, and nearly all proponents of privatization claim to justify their position is the poor performance of the FAA in modernization. Certainly we all support modernization, but only when pressed will these same proponents admit to the negative effect that the lack of consistent long-term funding has had on the FAA’s efforts to modernize. With no formal budget passing in congress for many years, combined with sequestration, congress itself is part of the problem. Congress needs to step up to the plate and provide a long term budget and real accountability at the FAA, before throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In the end, the risks of privatization seem to exceed those of simply fixing the system of budgeting and accountability. If you feel strongly about this, please keep up your pressure on your congressperson by calling 1-833-GA-VOICE,1-833-428-6423. You will be automatically transferred to each of your representatives based on your zip code.