ATC Privatization is off the table… for now

This post began as another missive expressing opposition to the federal government’s proposal to “privatize” the nation’s air traffic control system (ATC). However, today’s developments have rendered the argument moot. At least for the time being.

In case you somehow missed the story, which has been on the radar for decades but reached a higher level of simmer in the past three years, Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA) has been the main proponent pushing for the creation of a new entity, similar to Canada’s Nav Canada or Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS). The proposed entity would take over the activities and duties of the air traffic controllers and be governed by a board of directors made up, in theory, of representatives of all sectors of aviation in the U.S. However, many in business and general aviation feared the board would eventually come to be dominated by the commercial airlines, who would manipulate the system to their benefit and to the detriment of all other users.

Rep. Shuster is the soon-to-retire chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and his privatization proposal was included as a provision in the House version of the federal budget submitted in February. The proposal would have removed ATC from the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and placed all personnel, facilities, and equipment into the hands of the new entity, representing a literal giveaway of tens of billions of dollars worth of taxpayer-owned property and equipment.

As mentioned above this was not an entirely new proposal because the airlines have been pushing for it for several decades. This time around, however, the proposal seemed to gain more momentum than previous attempts, and the fact that it had the support of President Trump and it was included in the proposed budget had many in general aviation worried that it might actually have a chance of succeeding.

Through the efforts of the National Business Aviation Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Alliance for Aviation Across America, more than 240 regional groups, and thousands of individuals inside and outside of business and general aviation, and with much opposition in the U.S. Senate, it became clear that the proposal had little chance of success.

Just a few hours ago, Rep. Shuster withdrew the privatization proposal from the infrastructure bill being considered.

“Despite an unprecedented level of support for this legislation – from bipartisan lawmakers, industry, and conservative groups and labor groups alike – some of my own colleagues refused to support shrinking the federal government by 35,000 employees, cutting taxes, and stopping wasteful spending,” Shuster wrote in a statement. He continued, “Although our air traffic control reform provisions did not reach the obvious level of support needed to pass Congress, I intend to work with Senator [John] Thune [R-S.D.] and move forward with a reauthorization bill to provide long-term stability for the FAA.”


Mike Straka, PhD
HN Contributing Author & Technical Support
Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association