Going Direct: New Improved ATC Plan? The One Big Reason GA Is Saying “No Way!”

They’re not saying it out loud, but here’s why GA organizations are calling the new ATC plan a non-starter.

GA is in a tough spot now that a new privatization plan has been crafted that in theory answers most of its objections. There are the reasons that the industry remains united in its opposition.

Here’s the problem. The House of Representatives’ long touted air traffic control privatization plan, which creates a non-profit organization to control all ATC functions, was dead in the water. The forces of AOPA, EAA, NATA, GAMA, AEA and others, have succeeded in putting together a bipartisan group of friends in Congress that are sympathetic to GA, and anything that GA Coalition sees as being bad for the little guys is a non-starter. Think about that as you write your check to your preferred member org.

Handing ATC over the airlines was just such a scheme, and our GA friends in Congress wouldn’t go along with it even after President Trump voiced his support for the idea.

But then something happened. The proposal’s longtime sponsor, Rep. Bill Shuster (R, PA), changed the terms, realizing that to win over GA support in the House he needed to give them something to allay their fears that an airline-run ATC would be a nightmare. So instead of throwing them a bone, he gave the whole cow away, essentially exempting GA from any user fees that might be associated with a privatized ATC. Instead, every flying thing from J-3 to G5 would pay for its ATC services through a fuel tax, which is what we’re doing now.

So what’s wrong with the new plan?

Trust. We don’t and shouldn’t trust the people who will be making decisions that will affect our ATC system.

Well, the old adage that one shouldn’t try to fix something that isn’t broken is a good place to start. We know what we have in the current ATC system, and it’s the best in the world. President Trump’s reference to a country that has a better system is baffling. Unless that country is on some other planet the rest of us are unaware of, we remain the gold standard, by a long shot, too.

And the reasoning just goes from there. Fixing something that ain’t broke obviously comes with a certain likelihood of breaking it, but exactly how it will get broken is anybody’s guess.

Will the new, almost certain defects cause problems we don’t have today? Well, since we have few and minor problems to begin with, by definition they’ll create new problems. Will those new issues affect GA even though we won’t be paying into the new system by user fees? The answer, again, is obvious. If it affects ATC and we use ATC, then yes they will affect us. Some might argue that this is the fear of the unknown. Yes, it is! Why introduce an unknown into a great system.

And others will point out that ATC is broken, that its method of funding is broken. I’d agree that its method of funding is broken, but changing ATC to fix its financial foundations is like overhauling the engine on your Bonanza because your bank’s interest rates are too high. In a nutshell, it’s time to change the way ATC is funded, and there is no reason to change a perfectly functional ATC in order to do that.


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10 thoughts on “Going Direct: New Improved ATC Plan? The One Big Reason GA Is Saying “No Way!”

  1. What is being done by all those who oppose the new plan to educate the President? What is the alternative? Your article does nothing to persuade or enlighten anyone. What is standing in the way of ATC modernization. What does it take to convince the administration of the right way to modernize. What is being done to address the airlines saturation of the airways at the busiest times. They need to spread their activities further apart and educate the public on the need to do so. And you sir need to write articles that advise us all so that we can all make more pertinent actions on behalf of general aviation, and so we can be better educated on appropriate government legislation.

  2. I ‘m a Private Pilot flying just for the fun of it . I was wondering if President Trump actually asked his Private Pilot(s) what they think about the ATC system in general . If he did not ask them maybe he should .

  3. My concern with an airline run model is that we are TRUSTING an industry that ran security before 9/11, has had notable public relations issues, is often cited for maintenance issues, and frequent computer system outages.
    The FAA is not perfect, but the system works. Supply them money for the upgrades they require.
    While attempting to placate corporate and general aviation by eliminating extra user fees, they can be initiated at any time. There is also a question of system access. Will that be “guaranteed” to GA and corporate users?

  4. The only rational and legitimate purpose of a “government ” is to provide service for needs the people would be unable to do so individually or in small groups. The complexity and funds to run a nationwide ATC system are immense! And we have a 2 tier ATC system dilemma, the airlines (who have scheduled 24/7 flights) and GA which is as needed flight. The funding by fuel tax concept is less than perfect because of increased fares to cover the tax and the questionable accounting of the “government”. So first, lets focus on the existing infrastructure owned by the USA Inc. If a private non-profit takes over ATC who owns and maintains the infrastructure? To hand a non-profit the tangibles paid for by the people of the USA would be a huge theft! And would this non-profit be an American entity or a foreign entity? Look at the ATC in other countries and you won’t like what you find! The old saying “all major crimes are inside jobs” would probably fit this legislation. Simple solution is keep the present system intact, fuel tax revenues are only for ATC needs (no general slush fund like the highway money is being stolen) )and user fees for scheduled flights only. Not perfect but a hell of a lot better than stealing the system from the American people for the benefit of a “few”.

  5. Relax everyone. Many other countries have already done this and they have great airports as a result. The Wall Street Journal just published an article on this. This plan proposes to follow international standards. In Canada for example where this has already been done airports have improved and the general aviation fees are a whopping total of $49 per year. London Heathrow airport the busiest in the world has been privatized already and it is awesome. Has anyone flown out of Newark or LA recently? We live in a democracy and as such the airlines will pay most of the fees for all this as they should.The flying community and the Aopa should focus on ensuring that our fees stick to this vs blocking progress. This kind of hyperbole and theatrics is why our country never gets anything done anymore when anything even remotely political comes to the table. Full disclosure I’m just a private pilot I have no interest in promoting anything other than flying for her to be do Full disclosure I’m just a private pilot I have no interest in promoting anything other than flying for us.

  6. Somehow that term “not for profit” is enough for me to have zero support for the “new Bill”, as not for profit is probably the biggest lobby and tax breaks over paid exec’s going. Now for the GA and other who do not want this Bill, where is al the media attention on the side of GA, where are the news stories, where are the counter forces. I have heard zero about that side on any media, only one tiny story, a portion of which was supporting GA, which used the REAL statistics on ATC numbers, verse the cherry picked numbers of Airline and other supporters.. Anyone who thnks GA will get much out of this seriously under estimates the massive power and money of this latest attack… I am sorry folks but to buy any GA acft now and hope this will not impact GA serverly is a fools gambit. Might be great to have story and PR to media about the real impact to the “little guys of GA, owners, business’s and such.. but probbly is to late as the power machine will just grind us down…for all practical purposes, this ranks right up with plan to privatize Weahter Service..aka 1984 is on the way, in a “non profit” manner.. Good luck for any business and owners, to include LSA, associated with GA, as your side of story is not getting out…

  7. It’s downright hilarious to see the private aviation ingroup being this myopic about the simple thing: the government has ran out of other people’s money. Meanwhile, every agency endeavours to capture a vital function hostage, then puts a knife to its neck and says “reduce our budget and the function gets it”. FAA uses the ATC system for it. FAA must be cut, but they threaten to take ATC down with them. Therefore, before FAA can be cut, ATC _must be taken away from them_. This is what it’s about, people. And whining about GA is completely immaterial at this level.

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