Talk of privatizing ATC reappears

WASHINGTON, D.C — A wise person once commented that we learn from history that we learn nothing from history.

Nothing could be more accurate than the current flap over privatizing the air traffic control system.

More than two dozen industrialized nations have turned air traffic control over to private or semi-private organizations. None of these have the number of non-commercial, general aviation flights as the United States.

Although Congress, controllers, and users of air traffic control successfully kept the system under the control of the FAA in the past, once again there are rumblings about taking it away from the federal government and letting a private company provide the service and charge individual users.

When this was proposed under President Bill Clinton, it was opposed by users and gained the support of only two lawmakers, George Donohue, a former FAA associate administrator, told the Wall Street Journal. That Journal article stated opponents once opposed to privatization “have now endorsed talks.” Willingness to talk would be more accurate than endorsed.

Users of the U.S. air traffic control system have not changed their views. They are still opposed to anything but federal government control of ATC, as well as government control of establishing any fees for use. GA organizations still consider fuel taxes a fairer and practical way to pay for the use of ATC services.

Willingness to talk about privatization by no means implies a willingness to accept it. Rather, it is a symbol of GA’s willingness to present its views and obtain a forum in which to continue to present its opposition.


Ed Bolen

Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, states it this way: “NBAA remains highly skeptical that privatized systems, funded by user fees, are a better alternative to the aviation system we have in the U.S. today.”

Aviation interests here are more deeply concerned about sequestration and the 2014 budget that began this month. Sequestration demands $1.2 trillion must be over the next 10 years. The 2014 budget must cut $54.7 billion. With that kind of reduction in spending, aviation groups are expending their lobbying efforts to keep fuel taxes as the means of paying for using the system instead of proposed fees, which are once again in the budget proposed by President Obama.

One point stressed in opposition is the fact that determining use and collecting user fees would be extremely expensive, whereas a fuel tax is relatively inexpensive for the government to collect.


  1. says

    ADS-B will make user fees a huge carrot, whether ATC is public or private. If the market were truly free rather than a govt sponsored monopoly, we might well see some amazing innovation with privatization. Alas, like most govt sponsored monopolies, we’d likely be no better off than we are now and might be worse. With automated nickle and diming, ie fly within 5 miles of a tower and your checking account gets dinged, it will affect general aviation in huge negative way. I’m not sure this is a wise path for the long haul.

  2. Tim says

    Privatization is fine. However, fuel taxes and not user fees should finance ATC. If I would have to pay for VFR flight following I would never request it. Simple as that.

  3. Mike Marthaller says

    Any one remember what happened to the USPS when it became ???

    In the name of profit the concept of serving everyone to facilitate the overall good of the nation was lost.

  4. Sam says

    I think it speaks volumes that the NBAA, representing a combination of some of the most conservative demographics in the country, rejects privatization – of anything!

  5. says

    The point about collecting fees is just not true. If there is one thing that this American private sector knows how to do effectively and efficiently, it is how to collect fees. Just put Bank of America in charge. Problem solved.

    I think having an open mind is fine. If you want to ship a package do you send it by US Mail, UPS or FedEx? If you are in business you use dependable providers that can actually track your package.

    I bet that these false starts with ATC systems would not be if ATC were privatized. How many people do you think Amazon deals with per hour? Our new IRS managed Obamacare system could not deal with few million registrations over a few days.

    Amazon does that in an hour. Let’s hire Google to run the ATC or Microsoft. Maybe Yahoo they need some more income. :) Yahoo! welcome to NY center, N5576T stay on heading 020 and climb to FL3100? Not kidding :)

    Problem: Once the Congressional greedy bastards gets our money, they never ever give it back, i.e Social Security. They just spend it and then borrow it from China to offer political handouts in the form of credits, refunds and healthcare. Who says “thank you” to a thief when they return your own property?

    Truly, the less we ask of our country the better off we all are. We have got to stop this Merry-Go-Round, even if it rips off our arms in the process. Any Federal agency with 3 letters should be privatized.

    Keep in mind that the sequestration and CR is a result of the Senate not passing a budget. All this other stuff is political BS. When the US credit defaults in two weeks, it will be due to the Senate not passing an budget bill for that last 5 or 6 years, which by the way is a law that is being ignored.

    • Mark says

      I shipped a package yesterday. I used the United States Post Office. Less than half the price of those other two, and I got a free tracking number. I’m tracking the package right now. It’s en-route and will be delivered on Saturday. UPS can’t do that, even at twice the price.

      Let’s not turn our system into Europe. Wanna land your little airplane at an airport? cha-ching. Instrument approach? OK, but that costs more. Touch and go? Sure, the meter’s running.

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