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.