Going Direct: Could Privatization Spell The End Of AirVenture?

EAA’s Jack Pelton spells out the potential issues with putting on the world’s biggest airshow under a privatized ATC and what it could mean to all of GA.

There are a small number of people in the GA community, pilots and even a very few industry insiders, who are sympathetic to the idea of privatizing ATC functions under a proposal being put forward by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The usual reasons cited for favoring a privately run ATC are that the government does a bad job of managing technology modernization programs and that user fees, if they came to pass for GA at all, would probably be affordable. The conclusion these folks seem to have is this: How bad could privatization possibly be?

On Monday at the opening day of AirVenture, EAA President Jack Pelton explained in detail exactly how bad it could be.

Pelton spent time at the EAA’s afternoon briefing discussing the shortcomings of the process and the frightening unknowns about a system of which Congress would no longer have oversight.

On some issues, Pelton took exception to the lowball politics being practiced in Washington, D.C. as supporters of privatization seek votes in support of the effort by both dangling benefits to congressional districts who support privatization and making threats against those who choose refuse to do so. The strong arm tactics, Pelton said, extended to congressional aides of the proposals sponsors reaching out to the American Modeling Association leadership and threatening to strip protections for modelers contained within drafts of the bill if the organization didn’t drop its support of the GA Coalition against privatization.

While one might write off such tactics as Beltway politics as usual, Pelton’s concerns about what might happen if privatization were to become law were harder to dismiss.

Pelton said he’d been asked if his concerns about the survival of AirVenture under a non-FAA run ATC were hyperbole, and he stressed that it was a very real concern. He then went on to explain why that was the case.

For the past several years, EAA has been required to pay fees to get controllers to work the show. Without controllers, AirVenture would not be possible, so EAA, while it disagreed vehemently with being singled out to pay fees to put on its event, had little choice but to fork over the dough, which it continues to do to this day.

Pelton went on to say that there was no reason that a privatized ATC would support AirVenture. There is no provision within the bill, Pelton said, adding that he knew the legislation intimately, to require or even permit such a private organization to lend support to such efforts. He asked why such an organization, lacking any profit mission or motive, would stand behind the world’s biggest airshow? Again, rhetorical question.

He concluded his discussion of the subject by emphasizing that when he said that the very existence of AirVenture would be threatened by the privatization of ATC, he wasn’t kidding.

And it’s not just AirVenture either. That is just one example of a GA institution whose fate would be in jeopardy if ATC privatization were to ever see the light of day. How bad could it be? Pelton, along with Mark Baker, president of AOPA, Pete Bunce, president of GAMA, Ed Bolen president of NBAA, all agree. The very existence of GA could be in doubt if we let our legislators give away ATC to groups with no interest in the continued health of recreational, personal and business flying. Pelton just provided one concrete example. It just happened to be an example that, with B-29s and RV-4s and F35s flying overhead, hit home very strongly.

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One thought on “Going Direct: Could Privatization Spell The End Of AirVenture?

  1. This is all about airlines shedding fuel taxes to pay for ATC services. The airlines are the biggest consumer of ATC services, so they should pay their share of the cost. The best way to do that is through aviation fuel taxes – the bigger the plane, the more fuel it burns, and the more services it requires, so it should, and does, pay more fuel taxes to pay for its ATC services.

    In fact, ATC was developed to keep airliners from running into each other. It came about after two airliners collided over the Grand Canyon.

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