Four veteran NASA astronauts are featured in a 98-second video opposing the privatization of U.S. air traffic control (ATC) services.
“We know better than most that our national airspace is precious and that our freedom to use it now hangs by a thin thread,” says former Gemini and Apollo astronaut Lieutenant General Thomas Stafford in the video produced and distributed by the International Council of Air Shows, a non-profit trade association.
In the video, the four astronauts — Stafford, Jim Lovell, Robert “Hoot” Gibson and Ken Cockrell — explain the negative impact of House bill H.R. 2997, which includes language that would surrender the infrastructure and management responsibilities of America’s air traffic control system to a non-profit organization run by commercial airlines.
“If approved, legislation…to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system would damage this country,” says Gibson, a retired Navy captain who made five trips into space on the Space Shuttle.
[contextly_auto_sidebar]”The legislation would put the traveling public at unnecessary risk,” warns Lovell, a retired Navy captain who went on two Gemini missions and two Apollo missions, including the Apollo 13 mission that was featured in a 1995 film starring Tom Hanks.
“It would surrender the management of our national airspace to a private organization with no accountability to Congress or the executive branch,” says Cockrell, also a retired Navy captain and veteran of five Space Shuttle missions.
“These astronauts were motivated to speak out on this important issue because they understand just how important a smoothly operating air traffic control system is to our country,” said ICAS President John Cudahy. “They know that engagement by citizens and voters is the best way to stop this self-serving power grab by the airlines.”
Wylbur Wrong says
Any of you guys been in a center lately to see if they are still using old green screen radar scopes?
What about those old slide bar printers, where the characters move back and forth in front of print hammers to print out those strips of paper? Yes, I am old enough to remember all of this equipment, having worked with it.
Are those in use in any of the Approach/Departure control rooms across the US?
Or are they using 2 or 3 generations (?) old “military” radar that is computer enhanced that are also getting a certain amount of satellite data? Are they even using old printers as opposed to ip based printers when they have to print anything? Come to think of it, is anyone using the old strip of paper system or is this all being thrown out there to back the idea that a monopoly (the US Airspace) should be effectively turned over to airlines?
While we are at it, lets turn the US Highway system over to the top, what, 10 trucking companies? Yes, laugh at that, because with market pressures the top 10 keep changing. And as market forces change for the airlines, what is going to happen with them?
GA is not as organized as the Airlines are, but happen to be a bigger user of the airspace than the airlines are. If it is true that 50% of all aviation takes place in the USofA, then there is a lot of aircraft making flights besides airlines (121 & 135 included).
What I think we need to do is split out air traffic control from the FAA and make that its own entity under the umbrella of DOT. The funding can all be done via fuel taxes. The airlines won’t like it much, because they may have to pay $0.01 to $0.05/gal more to support ATC as a standalone entity under the DOT. But, the system would become more of a pay as you go system by the users. Then it won’t make any difference who calls ATC for clearances, flight following, etc. All of that will be paid for by the fuel taxes.
Congress would then have to decide if passengers should be paying all these ticket taxes, which is yet another problem with the whole system.
Modernizing ATC is not the same as privatizing ATC. These are not specifically related.
I know this from all the wonderful migration projects I get to watch in the IT world where people seem to enjoy purchasing a one off software development project (they are “modernizing” their IT shop). They know how to run IT for a biz, but they have no idea how to run a software development biz and so 3-5 years into it they have enormous bills and not much to show for it. But this is not the place for me to pontificate over that. I’m just saying that the airlines are airlines, and them running the US Airspace from their perspective will be similar to them running a software development project — they will run it for the ends they want, the way they want it and will ignore those people who have no power over them. And so many of the “end users” get left out and the service they used to get, well, no longer happens.
So putting the airlines in charge (how many seats for them vs. airports vs. GA entities?) is a mistake and will not result in the modernization everyone that is for this seems to think will take place.
Oh, and the argument being made that the airlines have not been doing the equipage… I’ve been talking to various captains of different airlines (and regionals). That is also a prevarication. They may not all have ADS-B, but they sure do have GPS.
I’m not drinking anyone’s cool-aid. I’m looking at this from as many sides as I can.
Bruce Boyes says
@Wylbur Wrong “Any of you guys been in a center lately to see if they are still using old green screen radar scopes?”
Yes I have, and no they don’t. Not for a long time. The ZLC ARTCC, which is likely typical, has an impressive array of up to date flat screens with a lot more automation than in the Bad Old Days. All the computer tech is replaced on a scheduled maintenance timetable, before it fails. It’s an impressive facility staffed by people who seem to enjoy their jobs and have high standards of professionalism. My experience with ATC, mostly in the western US, has (so far) been entirely positive, both VFR and IFR. No, I’m not getting paid to say that, I’m just an observer/customer.
Wylbur Wrong says
Thank you. Someone finally answered.
And you are verifying what I’ve been told, but have not had a good opportunity to go see for myself what a center or TRACON looks like (every time I’ve been invited I had a scheduling conflict). I live under a CLASS C shelf and just do not have time to take advantage of any of the “tower” tours so I can see for myself what goes on and what the equipment is they have.
John Swallow says
Unlike Jim Lovell, Thomas Stafford, Robert Gibson, and Ken Cockrell, I’ve never been higher than fifty thousand feet, never gone faster than seven hundred miles per hour, and never been weightless for more than seconds. However, the five of us have something in common!
And that common ground is that none of us is qualified to make an intelligent comment on the question of privatization of air traffic control services in the United States. And neither are many of the special interest groups such as NBAA, GAMA, AEA and AOPA. All are vehemently opposed to even the idea of having the US ATC system handled by a non-profit entity, spouting emotionally charged claims of doom and gloom. Asserting that privatization will mean handing over control of the ATC system to the airlines is an unknown: disingenuous at best and a fabrication at worst. Asserting that “Our system is the best in the world” isn’t the same as asserting that “Our system is the best it can be”.
Actually, I lie: there is one thing that the four aforementioned astronauts and I do not have in common. I have operated under a not-for-profit privatized ATC system for over twenty years. And it works quite well. Maybe not “the best in the world” nor “the envy of the world”, but it’s not run by the airlines either. The cost? Pennies a day…
Those are some smart Astronauts!
Being “pro-privatization” is anti-aviation. Those who are “pro-privatization” are an enemy to GA and should be treated as such.
@Bradley, you couldn’t be more wrong in your assertions. While these fine gentlemen are extremely well regarded for their contributions to society and space, and as patriots, this is all a reminder of how both Charles Lindbergh and Rickenbacker (also both esteemed patriots in their era) foolishly argued for the US staying neutral, and out of WWII, against Roosevelt’s better judgement. FAA now needs to be fundamentally reformulated, and a separate ANSP needs to be split out. Failure to do so will eventually doom GA, for all but the most expensive and high performance BizAv fleet, for which cost is no object, and access is otherwise politically assured. For the rest of us, GA will simply eventually be crushed if we stick with the present ATS “1:1 hand carried” concept, dismal efficiency performance, severe access restrictions (1000s of TFRs?) and exceedingly high cost financial model.
Bull, manydecadesga, wake up and stop drinking the cool-aid.
@Robbie, our family has been continuously involved in multiple aspects of GA since the ’30s, …from flying and operating GA airplanes, …to instruction,… to running an airport, …to many other aspects of global aviation, including air transport to wide body jets, and military fast jets. This is not at all cool-aid. It is in fact an assembly of hard cold facts, and real numbers, for the present antiquated obsolete ATS system, with outrageous “Cost per unit separation service”, to steadily increasing amounts of “denied access”, to massive delay and inefficiency in ATS, and lack of capacity, with ATS still hand carrying aircraft 1:1 like an ancient 1940s telephone operator plugging in a party line. It is long past time for GA to reconsider it’s short-sighted foolish self-destructive position on this issue, and move to massively improve and reduce the cost of the ATS system, …or lower end GA will surely face a fate moving toward oblivion, as fast and as bad as the steam locomotive, and telephone booth. Splitting out ATS, and reformulating FAA from first principles is the right place to start, just like the US wisely reconfigured aviation oversight and services in ’26, ’38, and “58.
Perfectly agree, GA is suffering and on the way to be killed by
these monsters created just to employ (and pay with our cash…)
myriads of incompetents seeking a safe and protected work.
Their goal, to demonstrate their “efficiency” is to make GA users
loose the precious time they gain by flying. Such behaviour and
approach is probably spurred simply by envy: they are stuck to
ground and their “power” demo is driving you crazy X racing you
and yr papers at every chance. Please, let flight control to military
and keep it simple. When/if somebody abuses of our last liberty
just fire him and keep him aground. FOREVER ! My last concern
arte drones: in the hands of stupids (video games addicts…) they
are like mines. A drone through the windshield is something to
worry about. My sad feeling is that engined aircraft pilots will soon
Sadly, these four well respected and globally admired spaceflight veterans, and patriots, are out of their element in attempting to authoritatively speak to this particular ATS reform and airspace use issue. It appears they’ve fallen prey to illogical if not even completely false assertions and political spin, being promulgated by the standard GA leader “naysayers”, starting with NBAA, and extending to AOPA, and EAA, and now including ICAS. Reformulating FAA from first principles (as we did back in ~’26, ’38, and ’58), and now also splitting out ATS as a separate not-for-profit entity, directly responsible to airspace users (NOT just to the airlines), … and including NASA and DoD as a major airspace users, could be the best thing for general aviation in the long term since the advent of the J-3 and C172 (to reduce fully allocated costs of the NAS, improve and lower the [real] cost of separation services, and IMPROVE long term GA airspace access). Unfortunately, these four revered space giants speak with no more authority on this particular ATS splitout issue, than they might be relied on to speak to, or predict, the outcome of the next Superbowl, World Series, or stock market. Now had they instead been advocating a path forward for NASA, or for humanity’s role in future spaceflight, their advocacy credibility would be enormous.