Going Direct: Trump ATC Privatization Proposal Shocks GA World

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.


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

16 thoughts on “Going Direct: Trump ATC Privatization Proposal Shocks GA World

  1. Which airlines will get a seat at the table? Braniff? Eastern? Northwest? USAir? Continental? People’s Express? Pan Am? America West? Vanguard? Valujet? Do the airlines have so much extra management talent that they can run the FAA and themselves? The vast majority of all airlines have gone out of business.

  2. I agree with this article. I do not agree with blaming it on Trump. I am very disappointed you believe the majority feels like you everything you don’t like that was started under the prior admin is now Trumps fault.

  3. One representative from GA. One from United, American, Southwest, Frontier, Spirit, etc. etc. etc.
    The airlines’ representatives would set policy, not run the show. They would just hire the staff that was laid off from the FAA. I’m sure they would replace the fuel tax with an ATC services fee, the same across the board. It would be miniscule for the airlines, and obscenely expensive for the hobbyist GA pilot/owner, and truly turn GA into a rich man’s hobby.

  4. David,

    The article makes very clear that the proposal originated with Rep. Bill Shuster (R, PA). So, yes, to the extent this is a bad proposal, Rep. Shuster should bear some of the blame.

    But now President Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony to announce the plan. As in, President Trump is behind this proposal. Wants it put into effect. If one thinks the proposal is a bad idea, in what world is it not okay to blame the very person who is seeking to have it put into effect?

    President Trump gets to own everything he tries to do. He’s trying to implement a plan that would privatize air traffic control. So yes, it’s entirely fair to blame him (or credit him, if you think it’s a good idea) here.

  5. Another hit on the nameless, powerless little guy, the taxpayer who pays his own way and everybody else’s…

  6. For years I’ve been hearing GA pilots grumble about government regulations, taxes, FAA bureaucrats, government stifling innovation, etc., etc., etc. Suddenly the shoe is on the other foot, and they’re waking up to the fact that government regulation can provide a means (if taken advantage of) of protecting interests other than those of Big Business.

    And this should be no surprise to anyone. The GA community should have known something was wrong when the Trump campaign ignored AOPA’s questionnaire on their policies regarding GA interests. Trump is all about profitability for businesses, the bigger the better. Never anything about protecting the interests of the little guy, just a new packaging of trickle-down economics.

  7. Last I heard, Trump was still the President, and – as of yet – not quite the dictator some of us might fear ( that honor belongs to George W. Bush).
    It is the Congress that still legislates, and only the House can appropriate the $$$.
    We got friends in Congress (and most of ’em Republicans) who have our backs. Give ’em the benefit of the doubt.
    Just think – if this should EVER go through, the next round of fecal matter might be the privatization of all publicly owned airports. Then we can watch the REAL fun begin – takeoff fees, landing fees, marshaling fees, parking fees, overnight fees, flight planning fees plus the (now) usual ATC fees ….. even if you never talk to a tower, TRACON or Center. At least there are no UNICOM fees in the proposal – Yet !!!

  8. This is just one example if things to come. Remember how Bannon touted “the deconstruction of the administrative state”? There’s more where this came from. The current administration obviously does not believe that there is any need for federal or state authorities to provide a public service. Everything can be privatized. Big business will call the shots. Is this a surprise to anyone? Have people not been listening during the presidential campaign? I don’t live in the US, but I am there frequently and I do fly there. And all I can say is: you get what you vote for.

  9. Mixing and equating the two separate issues of (A) privatizing the FAA and (B) changing the funding mechanism for air traffic control from the fuel tax to a user fee system is a mistake. I believe there are many reasons why an enthusiastic supporter of General Aviation can nevertheles be in favor of privatizing the FAA. However, I tend to think there are fewer reasons such a person would support a user-fee based ATC funding mechanism.

  10. So you file a flight plan and off you go in your C310 from KSTL to KPIT.
    Meanwhile, AA files a flight plan for the same route in a B737.
    Both pilots get similar service from clearance, approach, centers, etc. Both airplanes appear on the same radar screens. They each enjoy / don’t enjoy the same service. The FAA’s costs to supply the services was the same. The AA flight paid exponentially more in fuel based tax. The 310, not so much. Our ATC system is antiquated and the means we employ to pay for it is skewed. Does anyone think that the fuel based taxes paid by GA amount to enough to keep towers open at the hundreds of small airports to and from which commercial flights do not travel?

  11. Is there a site/group being formed to voice opposition to this proposal? One reactionary thought that crosses my mind is have a two tier fee system enacted by the law that treats general aviation separately. For example, a fee schedule for aircraft based on engine type and size, useful load, etc. Possible?

  12. James, the FAA gave those services to 300+ people on the AA flight. The 310 to 1 maybe 2 or 3.
    Should the 310 have to pay the same as AA?

  13. Amazing, not one mention of impact on GA or LSA by any news media, so much for who owns the propaganda… sure is not the commoners…. and most media cannot spell GA or LSA much less know what the financial side of it is to business… nor care it seems..

  14. Flying from one major city to the next will always be the strength of the airlines as they are far more cost effective but what about the vast landmass not adequately served by anything but small airports and roads,
    They need to go back to the drawing board but if the airlines have seats on such a board, so should AOPA, NBAA and EAA.
    Taxation without representation went out a long time ago. With ADSB, drones, GA and even Pilotless Aircraft in place or looming, I believe Airline growth will lag behind more direct point to point services.
    Privatization controlled by the Airlines seems to be a great leap backwards.

  15. What we’re reaping now is the result of treating the idea of ATC privatization is beyond pale and not providing any alternative proposals therefore. When the privatization became essential, Shuster’s proposal became the only option. The alphabet soup groups have nobody to blame but themselves and the GA owners and pilots approved of this course over the years. Sorry, I would rather downgrade to Part 103 than let an opportunity to privatize ATC to slide away again.

  16. Chris- to make sense from a fiscal and efficiency point of view, the selling price of services needs to have a relationship to the costs encountered to provide the services plus the cost of amortization of the infrastructure required. Your argument actually falls in on itself. If your rationale is to base the price of a service on the number of pax, then do that. This would make the cost to the 2 or 3 pax GA flight comically tiny for the services provided. This is the thinking employed to get us into this mess.

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