AOPA SPEAKS OUT

AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker expressed dismay June 5 over President Donald Trump’s characterization of the U.S. air traffic control system as being “an ancient, broken, horrible system that doesn’t work” during his remarks calling for the privatization of the system.

Photo by Christopher Rose

These comments were surprising given the fact that the American system handles orders of magnitude more traffic than any other in the world at efficiency and safety levels and costs per operation that are second to none.

“We applaud President Trump’s calls to invest and improve our nation’s infrastructure including our airports. However, the U.S. has a very safe air traffic system today and we don’t hear complaints from our nearly 350,000 members about it,” said Baker.Trump made his remarks June 5 in a White House speech kicking off what has been described as “Infrastructure Week,” a week when the president will propose numerous infrastructure programs. In the speech, Trump called for the removal of air traffic control operations from the FAA and placing it under a nonprofit entity to be funded by user fees. Trump said, “We will launch this air travel revolution by modernizing the outdated system of air traffic control.”

Flanked by the current and former secretaries of transportation, Trump stated that the ATC system was designed when far fewer people flew and called it “stuck painfully in the past.” He referenced the “outdated” system while touting new reforms that would make it safer and more reliable. In response to previous such comments by the president, the FAA has said that the current efforts to modernize air traffic operations, dubbed NextGen, have delivered some $2.72 billion in benefits and is running ahead of schedule and under budget on several major initiatives.

“While AOPA is open to proposals aimed at making the air traffic control system more efficient and delivering technology in a timely and cost-effective manner, we have consistently said we will not support policies that impose user fees on general aviation,” Baker said. “As the air traffic debate continues, we are also concerned about the impact of these proposed reforms on general aviation based on what we have seen in other countries.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, reiterated his reservations saying, “As we move forward in discussing potential reforms, getting a bill to President Trump’s desk will require bipartisan support as well as a consensus among the aviation community on a way forward.” Thune has previously suggested that there is not enough support on his committee to move an FAA reauthorization bill in the coming weeks that includes air traffic reform.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and a strong proponent of ATC privatization, suggested that he plans to move forward with a reform proposal again, which could also be in the coming weeks. Trump’s plan would impose user fees on all levels of general aviation. Shuster’s privatization proposal from last year called for user fees on commercial aviation and only on segments of general aviation to fund the proposed private ATC entity.

Baker said he sees Congress as having an important role in deciding the future of the air traffic system.

“We will continue to work with the administration and members of Congress including the General Aviation Caucus to ensure that safety, access, cost, and the freedom to fly are protected and addressed,” Baker said.

A joint letter to the president, signed by AOPA and 15 other general aviation groups, requests that the president “provide ample opportunity for all stakeholders and citizens to carefully review, analyze and debate any proposed legislation changing the governance and funding for air traffic control.”

The letter also noted that the industry as a whole generates “more than one million jobs, and more than $200 billion for the nation’s economy,” and that the groups, working along with Congress and the FAA, have “been able to ensure that our system operates for the public benefit,” while also “encouraging competition and innovation.”