Myth vs. Fact
THE BAIT AND SWITCH
Air Traffic Control “Reform” and the General Aviation Community
For more than 20 years, several big airlines have sought to seize control of our nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system so they can effectively determine where and when general aviation operators can fly. These airlines want the ability to control where investments in our aviation system are made which represents a significant threat to general aviation. Proponents of the airline backed ATC plan on Capitol Hill have created talking points to push their goal to privatize the system. We have taken their statements and labeled them as “myths” and debunked them with the truth.
“One of our top priorities this year is FAA reauthorization and reform of our nation’s ATC operations. Specifically, the reform would remove ATC operations from FAA and into a not-for-profit corporation, with the goal of modernizing operations.”
The 21st Century AIRR Act (H.R. 2997) goes well beyond just removing ATC operations from FAA and turning them over to a private not-for-profit corporation. In addition, services such as flight information, weather briefings, aeronautical information, airport advisory services, and responsibility for navigational aids would be removed from FAA. Congressional oversight of air transportation taxes, allocation of resources, and most importantly access decisions would be given to a not-for-profit corporation. This corporation would be able to tell all general aviation stakeholders where and when they could fly.
“Reforms would improve the certification process, as well, by streamlining the FAA’s aircraft certification processes so that manufacturers can get their products to market faster and operators can benefit from greater, more efficient approvals of new equipment and technologies.”
Certification reform can be done without removing ATC from FAA and giving it to a not-for-profit organization. This “myth” is conflating two separate and distinct issues
“There is a fair amount of misinformation surrounding how reform of the air traffic control system will impact the business aviation community.“
“For example, some claim that this new reform would give sweeping latitude over aviation system governance to airlines, which would allow them to restrict where and when companies using business aviation can fly and how much they pay. These accusations are completely false for the following reasons:
- The proposal struck a balance on the board of the new not-for-profit corporation, giving equal representation to both the airlines and the general aviation community. Each sector has four seats on the board.
- Additionally, executive business jets were also exempt from user fees. Only Congress would have the power to determine who pays a fee, not the Corporation.
- Finally, this new entity will be prohibited from restricting airspace access for ATC services provided.
- Not only are concerns about the new system unfounded, the business aviation community and employees on business travel stand to benefit from the new system.”
Under H.R. 2997, the ATC corporation could use an administrative process to restrict general aviation access to airports and airspace. So long as the restriction didn’t adversely impact safety it could be approved. The economic or operational costs of major decisions such as closures of ATC facilities, changes to airspace classification or modifications to navigational procedures would not be considered.
The bottom line for general aviation- hiring expensive lawyers and enduring lengthy legal proceedings would be the only way to challenge airport and airspace restrictions. In other countries with privatized ATC systems we have observed access restrictions for general aviation operators, and believe that same thing could happen in the U.S. if ATC privatization occurs.
Under H.R. 2997 a 13 member board would oversee the private corporation charged with running our nation’s ATC system. The board would include two seats for general aviation and four seats for the scheduled airlines and their employees. However, by aligning forces with the hub airports, the air traffic controllers union and the at large board members, the airlines could dominate the board.
“According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, since 2004, ATC delays are nearly 19% longer in 13 out of the 20 largest U.S. hubs. There are examples showing that it takes between 4 and 20-percent more time to fly between certain cities today than it did in 1990 despite newer airplanes and supposedly “modernized” ATC.”
“Time is money. Delays and cancelled flights have real impacts for business travelers and the bottom line for their employers. According to FAA, airline delays and cancellations cost the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion annually.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, air carrier delays and weather accounted for nearly 80% of flight delays in 2016. When an aircraft was late arriving and caused the next flight to be delayed, airlines were directly responsible the majority of the time. Airlines have also been increasing scheduled flight times for over 20 years to boost on-time performance and account for ground congestion caused by their scheduling practices. Finally, airline IT disruptions cause significant delays across the system – there have already been 17 major outages in 2017.
“This approach to air traffic control is ultimately good for the business aviation community as well as passengers flying on business travel.“
We believe business aviation and general aviation will be severely disadvantaged under air traffic control privatization legislation as we have seen in other countries that have moved to privatized systems
“Efforts to modernize our ATC system under the FAA from a WWII-era inefficient, radar-based system to a modern, satellite-based system, have failed, running up against billions in cost-overruns, and decades of delay.”
According to the FAA Administrator, over the past five years, NextGen has delivered benefits to the aviation industry and traveling public that are on time and on budget. Significant progress has occurred on modernization programs including ADS-B, a GPS-based surveillance technology that provides direct routings and GPS tracking of aircraft. The FAA also created 4,000 GPS approaches offering precision guidance to the runway without the need for ground based equipment.
In recent Congressional testimony, the President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said, “The U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) is the safest, most efficient, most complex, and most diverse system in the world.”
“Overwhelming evidence from the U.S. government and other reports shows separating operations has led to better performance on safety, service quality, cost, and financial stability and has the potential to save businesses billions of dollars that are currently lost to system inefficiencies, cancelled and delayed flights and reduced employee productivity.”
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, “There does not appear to be conclusive evidence that any of these (privatized ATC) models is either superior or inferior to others or to existing government-run air traffic services, including FAA, with respect to productivity, cost effectiveness, service quality, and safety and security.” In 2016, the Government Accountability Office also found that, “To maintain operations, the Canadian ANSP (Nav Canada) cut costs and raised its user fees.”
“Modernizing the system would result in more direct flight routes and shorter flight times.”
Department of Transportation data shows that our ATC system is not the primary cause of airline flight delays – airline scheduling practices are. Moreover, direct routings are possible with GPS technology, however as of 2015, only six percent of the commercial airline fleet was equipped to take advantage of ADS-B technology. Over scheduling by the airlines at hub airports causes delays that have nothing to do with our ATC system.
The Truth about So-Called GA Protections in H.R. 2997
Supporters of H.R. 2997 claim there are so-called protections for GA in the legislation. That couldn’t be farther from the truth as the bill will severely reduce GA access to the nation’s airports and airspace.
There are strong access protections to ensure continued, assured access to airports, airspace, and air traffic control services:
- Key take away is that access cannot be denied to any user and the Corporation cannot prioritize one user over another in its operation of the ATC system
- Includes rigorous, 3-tiered government review and oversight process should the Corporation take any action that may indirectly affect access
- This is a higher standard than the current standard as FAA can make changes to access and put in place policies that would affect access for users
The ATC corporation and big airlines could use this bureaucratic process to restrict GA access to airports and airspace.
- So long as the restriction doesn’t adversely impact safety it could be approved. The economic/operational costs of major decisions such as closures of ATC facilities, changes to airspace or modifications to navigational procedures would not be considered.
- Hiring expensive lawyers and enduring lengthy legal proceedings would be the only way to challenge airport/airspace restrictions.
Under our current ATC system, Congress has the authority to review changes to airport or airspace access, and our elected representatives act as a voice for GA. Removing congressional oversight and handing it over to a private board leaves GA open to devastating access restrictions
A balanced board of directors with aviation stakeholders each holding 1 designated spot including 1 for general aviation and 1 for business aviation, the government has 2 appointees, and 2 seats that will be determined by the board by a supermajority vote meaning they will need to be consensus nominees to be seated.
- Aviation stakeholders do not have the ability to directly appoint representatives
- They submit a list of possible appointees and the DOT Secretary will choose the director from each stakeholder’s list.
The board would include four seats for the scheduled airlines and their employees. However, by aligning forces with the hub airports, the air traffic controllers union and the at large board members, the airlines could dominate the board.
According to HR 2997, once the ATC system is transferred to the private board, a “supermajority” would no longer be required to select the at-large members. The supermajority is only required for appointment of at-large members before transfer of the ATC system occurs.
Potential Board Control: The 13-member board is dominated by airline related interests.
There is a prohibition on charging user fees to any segment of general aviation.
Although GA is exempt from user fees and will continue paying the fuel tax, none of the fuel tax revenue will go towards ATC operations. Congress could easily modify the legislation later to subject GA to user fees set and controlled by the private board.