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Administration Proposes Privatization of Air Traffic Control to Kick Off ‘Infrastructure Week’

by Countable | 6.5.17

The administration has declared this "Infrastructure Week" and first on their list is a proposal to privatize air traffic control.

The idea of privatizing air traffic control is not a new one. The Washington Post notes that the airline industry has been pushing for privatization since the 1980’s. Under the Clinton administration the idea of spinning air traffic operations off from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a government corporation was raised, but was killed by congressional opposition.

More recently, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) proposed legislation last year to privatize air traffic control similar to the model in Canada. According to the Post:

"Many countries have created government-owned corporations, independent government agencies or quasi-governmental entities. Canada is the only country to create what is clearly a private nonprofit air-traffic corporation. NavCanada can raise private capital, make long-term financial commitments, and it recently lowered the fees it charges airlines.”

Schuster’s legislation met lukewarm support in the House, not even managing to make it to a floor vote. There was stronger opposition in the Senate. The administration, however, has pointed to Schuster’s legislation as "a starting point for their efforts".

Supporters of privatization point to budgetary concerns and a lack of flexibility to stay on pace with emerging technologies. They want to remove air traffic operations from annual federal budget wrangling, which makes it difficult to acquire adequate capital for system upgrades and makes air traffic controllers subject to furloughs along with other federal employees in the event of a government shutdown.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association endorsed Shuster’s legislation after securing assurances that wages, benefits and collective bargaining rights would be protected.

Opponents of the legislation say there’s no evidence that a private corporation, which would be run primarily by airlines, would provide any better service. Major U.S. airlines have suffered major computer outages in recent years that have brought air travel to a standstill, grounding thousands of flights and stranding tens of thousands of passengers.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service published a report last month asserting there was no significant difference between the various models for organizing air traffic control operations- government-run, quasi-governmental corporation or private entity, in terms of productivity, cost-effectiveness, service quality, and safety and security.

The FAA’s program to update air traffic technology, called NextGen, has been in progress for a more than a decade. It was originally proposed to be completed by 2025, though now officials refer to the effort as "ongoing". Privatization supporters seek greater speed and flexibility to incorporate constantly evolving technology.

But the Post points to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta who recently noted "tremendous progress", with the department poised to switch from ground-based radar to GPS surveillance. The switch is expected to save time and fuel and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Huerta has predicted $13 billion in benefits to the government and aircraft operators by 2020, with greater gains after that.

Even consistent NextGen critics, like Calvin Scovel, the Transportation Department’s inspector general, agree that the system as it stands is not broken. So it comes down to whether or not lawmakers believe this essential part of U.S. infrastructure should be privatized. If it is, it would be one of the largest transfers of government assets in history- 300 towers and other flight tracking centers and about 35,000 workers would be part of the deal.

Should air traffic control operations be privatized? Us the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(164)
  • Karen
    06/06/2017
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    To privatize air traffic controllers would cause direct threats to public safety. There would be methods used to cut costs that would diminish safety of passengers & airline personnel.

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  • Ticktock
    06/05/2017
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    Privatization of federal jobs started with Reagan. Tax records ended up overseas along with everyone's personal information. Many federal jobs were eliminated, privatized and then returned when the work was not done improperly nor securely. Also during Reagan's tenure he fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for going on strike. Can you images air traffic in our sometime unfriendly skies without air traffic controller. If they are privatized they will have the right to unionize and strike. It's a hard job, why not? There are too few air traffic controllers, the problems with our air transportation infrastructure needs to be improved and we want it to be privatized. Once this vital service is safely auctioned off the services offered will become expenses and reduced where possible. We do not need such a vital service privatized anymore than the police, fire departments or armed services. Some services are so critical that they need to be under the control of the federal, state or local government.

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  • Kim
    06/05/2017
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    This is crazy. More dysfunctional privatization plans that will undermine safety and our social contract.

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  • Anne
    06/05/2017
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    Oh great! How do you cut corners to make a profit in air traffic control? Air traffic controllers are already over worked. Glad I don't fly anymore. Good luck frequent fliers.

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  • JGAILEY
    06/06/2017
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    Yeah, privatization is the Republican answer to everything. By chance does anyone note all the leaks of government secrets from the private "contractors" doing jobs that used to be done by government employees? (Remember Edward Snowden?) I wonder how partisan republicans will be at 30,000 feet with their life in the hands of private air traffic controllers working at the cheapest rates possible?

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  • Gail
    06/06/2017
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    Please do not privatize air traffic controllers as their function is vital, similar to other public service employees such as police and fire personnel. Privatization is popular with Republicans because it greases the palms of corporations and reduces government, but not every government function is conducive to privatization. I think when it comes to health, safety and the law, you need government regulation and oversight because lives are at stake. Corporations are too bottom line oriented to remember to value life first above profits. We see evidence of this in many places. For example, look at construction companies that do not hire union workers. In our area we have had repeated offenses of OSHA violations by such companies and unfortunately it has resulted in deaths. Let's not experiment with jobs as vital as air traffic controllers. Let's implement the improvements that are currently in process. We have plenty of other high need infrastructure jobs waiting to get done.

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  • Lynne
    06/06/2017
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    Privatization didn't work in Iraq, didn't work in prisons and hospitals, hasn't worked in schools... how much more proof do you need that private means profit not the people's interests. Stop using my taxpayer dollars to line the pockets of a few businesses.

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  • Ann
    06/06/2017
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    No. This is a bad idea. Like prisons, no company should profit over this. And I'd think it has to do with national security and should be run by our federal government.

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  • WaterHopsBarley
    06/06/2017
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    Privatizing our safety is unacceptable. Why is everything up for sale under this reckless administration? Leave our air traffic safety alone!

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  • Aimee
    06/06/2017
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    Privatizing air traffic control seems a stupid idea. Who is going to ensure consistency and safety across the country?

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  • Bob
    06/06/2017
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    I was an Air Force air traffic controller and the whole system would have to be reviewed and weaknesses studied before something this important is put at risk before study and services reviewed. It goes much further than the public is aware of and could effect safety and expedience

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  • VSB
    06/06/2017
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    How is privatizing air traffic control improving infrastructure? Any time any industry has ever been privatized it has caused the consumer to suffer. We cannot afford poor quality air traffic control. Please oppose. Air traffic control is not broken. Nothing about this helps Americans.

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  • Mon
    06/06/2017
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    This is gambling with our nation's safety and trusting profit motivated enterprise to fully staff ATC centers when it's not in their best interest. Capturing the innovation pull-through in technology from the private sector requires open competition of tech and service providers bidding on contracts overseen by the FAA - not a wholesale outsourcing of operations and selloff of government assets.

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  • Peggy
    06/07/2017
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    It will undermine our right to hold them accountable. Privatizing to corporations who have shell corporations and hardly leave a paper trail is ot holding them accountable if something bad should occur.

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  • Mary
    06/06/2017
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    No, just no. When has privatization ever helped the consumer or taxpayer, your constituents?

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  • Diane
    06/07/2017
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    Forget it folks. Anytime our corrupt republican majority congress can help their big business buddies out and spit in the face of typical Americans they will. We must vote out these congress people who put big business before country.

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  • Jeanne
    06/07/2017
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    If air traffic controller jobs were privatized, I will no longer feel safe flying. I am fortunate enough not to have to, so I won't. I imagine I am not the only one and that this would significantly hurt the airline and travel industries. Further, how does this improve the country's infrastructure? Please do the right thing and do not support privatization; please work on obtaining funding to work on roads, bridges and other infrastructure that have been neglected or are decrepit.

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  • Eve
    06/07/2017
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    The air traffic control system is already being upgraded with, it appears, significant progress. Could it be faster? Probably. Will selling it off so that an entirely new organization will need to be created to oversee it make the process happen faster. I'm dubious. Furthermore, who thinks putting air traffic control in the hands of the airline carriers is a good idea? That's like putting the FDA in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. Oh, wait. I guess this idiotic regime already did that.

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  • Chris
    06/06/2017
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    More Trump stupidity.

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  • Duane
    06/06/2017
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    This cannot happen. We need the air traffic controllers to be federal employees not privately run as too many corners would be cut and people will be killed in air disasters.

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