The ATC Privatization Proposal – A Bad Idea for General Aviation

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President Trump’s characterization of the United States Air Traffic Control system was a statement, unsupported by evidence, that listeners are supposed to believe and take as face value. He describes the system as “an ancient, broken, horrible system that doesn’t work” – which could not possibly be farther from the truth. In reality, the US ATC system is, without a doubt, the best in the world, handling a volume of traffic that far exceeds that of any other system anywhere. It does this with a degree of safety that is as close to 100% as you can measure, and while there are always efficiencies to be gained with modernization (a process that pilots are already paying for in the cost of ADSB equipage), there is no doubt that the system is measurably without peer. Unfortunately the vast majority of non-aviators, knowing nothing more than that they have had a flight delay on an airline, has no idea that the President’s statements are merely political posturing.

I have been an aviation professional my entire adult life, and have been a licensed pilot for over 45 years. I have operated in a wide range of airspace, speed, and altitude regimes. While I, like most pilots, might occasionally complain about minor inconveniences, the thought of a wholesale change in the way airspace is managed and controlled is unthinkable. The average taxpayer might think that outsourcing critical services from the government to private entities makes sense. The truth is that you only have to look at the US Postal Service and Amtrak to realize that such moves rarely turn out well.

While many countries have created private air traffic systems, these changes have come at great cost to General Aviation, and have driven non-airline flying to the realms of the rich. Most of these country’s systems handle an order of magnitude less traffic than the US ATC system – so they are really no comparison. Americans are used to experiencing the freedom of the skies, and killing GA will take that from all of us.

As proposed, President Trump’s idea is to hand over control to the airlines – roughly the equivalent of handing the Interstate Highway system over to executives of the trucking industry. The airlines have an unwavering record of doing everything that they can to inhibit and degrade General Aviation, and there is no doubt that if they are given control of the National Airspace System, this will continue to its ultimate state – the death of GA.

Why should anyone care? Because GA is the lifeblood of a huge percentage of our nation. In the state of Nevada (my home), there are only a few airports served by airlines – the rest of the isolated communities depend on GA for business, government, and emergency air transport. In addition, General Aviation is the breeding ground for new professional pilots – without it, there will be no new civilian pilots. And aviation technology feeds the economy in countless ways – its loss will have a huge negative economic impact on our nation.

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ATC privatization is not only a bad idea for aviation, but for the entire country. It will set up a corporate monopoly on one of America’s greatest contributions to the modern world – and to our own economy. Forget the direct impact on the hundreds of thousands of pilots who enjoy flying for its own sake, and their personal transportation – the rest of America will suffer as the airline corporations decide what is best for everyone.

Providing for the common good is one of the essential duties of government – and a safe, fair Air Traffic System is in everyone’s best interest. We will not get that with the private system that has ben proposed.

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Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor, as well as a former member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

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