Wall Street Journal Misses Key Facts in Editorial Supporting ATC Privatization

In a Feb. 15 editorial, “Private Jet-Setters Against Better Air Travel,” The Wall Street Journal incorrectly asserts that handing over control of our nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system to the big airlines will improve efficiency and reduce costs for the traveling public.

We must let our supporters on Capitol Hill know that business aviation continues to oppose HR 2997 or any other efforts to privatize ATC. Even if you have contacted Congress before, please take a few minutes and make contact again today. Contact Congress Now.

UPDATE: 

On Feb. 22, The Wall Street Journal published a response from NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen and AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker challenging the newspaper’s editorial supporting ATC privatization. Review the letter to the editor.

WSJ Claim

The major airlines would nominate only one seat to the 13-member board that controls the nation’s ATC system.

TRUTH

Careful analysis of the board structure shows that airline-centric interests will be able to control 8 of the 13 board seats, giving them a majority vote to restrict general aviation access to airports and airspace.

WSJ Claim

Private expertise could implement new technology that allows planes to take off and land in more efficient patterns and fly more direct routes.

TRUTH

Department of Transportation data shows that our ATC system is not the primary cause of airline flight delays – airline scheduling practices are. In fact, an article in The Journal of Air Traffic Control explains that “the airlines’ unmanaged, highly variant “day of” aircraft flows” are the main cause of flight delays.

The U.S. has built the largest ADS-B network in the world, which allows precision GPS position information from aircraft to be transmitted to ATC. However, the airlines have been slow to equip their fleets and demanded a five-year delay until 2025 to fully equip.

WSJ Claim

The bill continues to throw money into the Airport Improvement Program, which exists to funnel money into runway and other updates, especially for rural airports.

TRUTH

While the bill authorizes funds for the Airport Improvement Program, those funds come from the Airport and Airways Trust Fund which would be depleted once the airlines shift to a user fee approach. Without transportation tax revenue flowing into the trust fund, how will projects at rural airports be funded?

WSJ Claim

ATC fees on an Airbus A320 from New York to Fort Myers, Fla., would be 43% lower than today’s taxes, and on some routes the figures dipped to a 60% reduction. This translates to a radical cut in the annoying list of costs tacked on to your ticket price.

TRUTH

In a background document for the House Ways & Means Committee, Airlines for America states, “Airline users would pay the same amount as they pay today. However, all or most of the existing taxes charged to commercial passengers and operators would be phased-out as new non-governmental user fees are phased-in.”

If the airlines are promising to pay the same amount for use of the air traffic control system, where do the savings for passengers come in?

The big airlines will likely use the new “non-governmental user fees” controlled by an airline-centric board to pass on more fees to economy class travelers while reducing fees for business class passengers. Review an analysis of how the new fees would work.

WSJ Claim

Air travel is becoming less pleasant, and according to one analysis the average time from push back to arrival is increasing on many routes—more than 80 minutes from D.C. to New York LaGuardia, up from 67 minutes in 1990.

TRUTH

The airlines themselves control how much time they allow for flights and have been increasing allotted times for nearly 20 years to boost on-time performance. According to the Los Angeles Times, “airlines have added the extra travel time so they can post better on-time rates but also to help carriers deal with growing congestion on the airport tarmac.”

At most airports, airlines control the tarmac and their gates, meaning that the ATC system has no ability to manage congestion on airline ramps.