GA pilots, industry players, member organizations respond with outrage over the Trump ATC privatization budget proposal, the administration’s proposed adoption of ATC giveaway to the airlines.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but the aviation world responded in shock and outrage when President Trump, as the first step in his major infrastructure upgrade plan, announced his proposal to turn over control of United States Air Traffic Control functions to an organization to be controlled by major U.S. airlines. The president had announced in his budget in late March his intention to do just that, but the industry did not then respond forcefully, and some insiders voiced their hope at the time that the proposal would be forgotten. We voiced our concern over the budget item back when the administration announced it, writing that such a giveaway would be disastrous for GA in the United States.
On Monday morning, June 5th, 2017, we learned that any hopes we’d had that the president might go in a different direction were wishful thinking when he announced in a Rose Garden event the very plan he’d hinted at in his summary budget plan in March.
The plan Trump announced is one that has been making the rounds in the House for the past couple of years. The architect of the ATC privatization bill, Rep. Bill Shuster (R, PA), who a couple of years began dating a woman who is an airline lobbyist, has relentlessly pushed the bill over that period. Despite Shuster's dogged support for the legislation, it has gained little traction in the House. The Pennsylvania representative apparently found a more receptive audience in the administration when Trump took office.
The essentials of the proposal are not complex, though its implementation would be. Under the plan all FAA ATC functions would be privatized and run by an organization that would be headed by a group that would be selected by the department of transportation and would almost certainly be dominated by airline representatives. General aviation probably would have light representation, but the effect would probably be that it would be for show only, as the majority of voting members selected by DoT would probably be airline representatives, based on President Trump's vocal support of the industry during his remarks.
By implementing such a plan, the government would give the airline-controlled organization the right to implement user fees and eliminate airline fees at its discretion. Its board would presumably end the current funding mechanism of ATC, a tax on every gallon of aviation fuel that’s sold in the United States, and create new one, which no one doubts would resemble those in countries that have adopted such privatization schemes.
What would such a plan look like? Jim Almon, CEO of Blackhawk Modifications, has been behind the scenes and watching the progress of this proposal since it was floated and thinks it would be folly to abandon our current funding system. He told Plane & Pilot that the “bottom line is the payment method of fuel taxes is the most efficient vehicle to pay for ATC services. It's collected every time you buy fuel and has been working for over 60 years. The only reason to change it is to offload costs onto GA and that’s exactly what [the airlines] intend to do.”
Since shortly after it was announced, every major general aviation member organization has come out in vocal opposition to the proposal, encouraging its members to reach out directly to their elected representatives to voice their strong disagreement with any kind of privatization plan.
We encourage you to do exactly that, as well. I’m picking up the phone right now.