Going Direct: Disaster Looming For GA?

President Trump’s budget proposal threatens the lifeblood of General Aviation.

Over the past couple of days, the general aviation community has responded to a common threat to our way of flight. Earlier this week President Trump issued his budget, and while there is no shortage of controversy associated with it, for those of us who love personal and business flying, there was a single terrible surprise. The administration’s proposed budget calls for the privatization of air traffic control, adopting a proposal that US Representative Bill Shuster (R, PA) has been pushing for the past two years that would hand control of ATC to the airlines. Shuster is dating an airline lobbyist, but even the strong appearance of undue influence hasn’t stopped him from pushing for the legislation at every turn.

As the Trump team establishes itself in Washington, it has become clear that decentralizing government—at least as far as services are concerned—wasn’t just a talking point. Undoing government involvement in every manner of industry is one of the defining philosophies of this administration. So none of us should be surprised that privatizing air traffic control (and handing its control over to the airlines) is one of the changes called for in the President’s budget proposal.

It shouldn’t be this way. Instead of draining Shuster’s swampy corner of Washington politics, Trump’s team adopted Shuster’s proposal hook, line and stinker. Make no mistake about it, the proposal is a body-blow to general aviation, and the major GA organizations weighed in immediately with a stern call to abandon the proposal.

EAA president Jack Pelton issued a statement that perfectly outlined the numerous and weighty problems with the proposal, citing several details of the proposal while also nailing the big problem. “Those stakeholders,” Pelton wrote in the release, “that are the best funded, best equipped, and/or carry the most passengers [i.e., the airlines] will likely be the best served in a privatized system.” And Pelton identified the big threat to us, writing that “General aviation will lose over time to economically powerful interests whose primary goal is to obtain control over the system and its resources. They will seek to minimize their own direct operating costs by reducing or eliminating services that do not directly address their needs and/or by shifting cost burdens onto other users of the system.”

I’ll take it a step further. If you can think of anything the airlines could do to curtail general aviation that would give it better access to airports or airspace while make its business model more profitable, they are very likely to do just that. This will mean higher fees for travelers, less access to GA to airports we share with the airlines, less funding for keeping aviation decentralized and community based, and user fees for those of us who use ATC services.

It’s not just the aviation alphabets who are strongly opposed to the proposal. Conservative commentator Grover Norquist, president of the smaller-government group Americans for Tax Reform, in a letter to the administration said the privatization proposal risked higher taxes and user fees for many Americans. He also worried that the proposal would carve out a funding apparatus over which Congress, and hence the American people, would have little control. The FAA’s current stop-gap funding bill ends in September. We hope we get a more common sense solution to a long term funding for all of aviation and not just the segment with the most money to throw Washington's way.

If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

8 thoughts on “Going Direct: Disaster Looming For GA?

  1. Any effort to curtail GA and the airlines would be shooting themselves in the foot. It is GA where all the training, ratings and hours are built. What are they thinking?

  2. The airlines fail to realize that doing this is shooting themselves in the foot. General aviation is the base that supports their industry. How do the execs think their pilots make it to the cock pit? You can’t hire a military general without them first being a lieutenant and you can’t hire a captain without them first being a general aviation pilot. If they go down this road the pilot shortage is going to hit critical mass because an already cost prohibitive profession will become impossible to enter. If you are going to privatize ATC then we should privatize the highway system. Put control of the highways in the hands of the trucking companies. Let’s see how that works out.

  3. Would the ATC’s control all fields or just airports used by airliners? How about privatizing the FAA while they are at it? With so much regulation controlling GA, GA is about half dead now.

  4. Same as handing highways over to trucking companies. 1st order “Ban smaller personal vehicles”. Airline ATC ban personal private airtravel

  5. Your concerns are well-taken; however, there is another risky possibility: that they (airlines) would seek to eliminate ATC at Class D airports (which they do not use, except indirectly via some of their propeller regional agreements). To do this, of course, they would seek to have them declassified as Class E, and where traffic warrants Class D status (and thus ATC) the risk of collisions will be increased.

  6. This smells of one of those things that AFTER it happens we wonder “how did we not see this coming?” …allowing the airlines to control ATC would with out question take GA into a world of additional fee’s and regulation that would take many of us out of the game. They will treat it a a business, and it will be financially too painful for small aircraft owners. This needs to be on the mind of every small aircraft owner with a LOUD voice at the ready. Our GA aircraft would have little value if flying them became too difficult and costly.

  7. I happen to live in Canada. In Canada we went to a private company for ATC, with a single shareholder, the govt.
    It costs about 73 dollars a year (Canadian you do the math) for a single engine aircraft.
    That gets you unlimited briefings, all your nav fees (for the most part), and all your flightplans etc. the system is still “first come, first served” and while there was lots of trepidation in the start, it seems to be working “OK” 15 years in. The “Major” airports in Canada , that are the likes of Boston and JFK etc have become restricted by fees the airports put in effect that for the most part discourage use by small aircraft by the economic disadvantage it creates. (Costs too much, but his has nothing to do with ATC).
    I would say its the structure they set up that determines if it works for GA or not. I do understand some USA folks were up meeting with Nav Canada etc to see what we are up to.
    What all of us really dont want is the “European model” where the “airways fees” cost more for a light twin than the gas you burn on the same route!!
    Good luck , i Hope we “keep what we have enjoyed” in the USA and/ or get something tolerable.

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