The ATC Privatization Proposal - A Bad Idea for General Aviation

President Trump's characterization of the United States Air Traffic Control system was a statement, unsupported by evidence, that listeners are supposed to believe and take as face value. He describes the system as "an ancient, broken, horrible system that doesn't work" - which could not possibly be farther from the truth. In reality, the US ATC system is, without a doubt, the best in the world, handling a volume of traffic that far exceeds that of any other system anywhere. It does this with a degree of safety that is as close to 100% as you can measure, and while there are always efficiencies to be gained with modernization (a process that pilots are already paying for in the cost of ADSB equipage), there is no doubt that the system is measurably without peer. Unfortunately the vast majority of non-aviators, knowing nothing more than that they have had a flight delay on an airline, has no idea that the President's statements are merely political posturing.

I have been an aviation professional my entire adult life, and have been a licensed pilot for over 45 years. I have operated in a wide range of airspace, speed, and altitude regimes. While I, like most pilots, might occasionally complain about minor inconveniences, the thought of a wholesale change in the way airspace is managed and controlled is unthinkable. The average taxpayer might think that outsourcing critical services from the government to private entities makes sense. The truth is that you only have to look at the US Postal Service and Amtrak to realize that such moves rarely turn out well.

While many countries have created private air traffic systems, these changes have come at great cost to General Aviation, and have driven non-airline flying to the realms of the rich. Most of these country's systems handle an order of magnitude less traffic than the US ATC system - so they are really no comparison. Americans are used to experiencing the freedom of the skies, and killing GA will take that from all of us.

As proposed, President Trump's idea is to hand over control to the airlines - roughly the equivalent of handing the Interstate Highway system over to executives of the trucking industry. The airlines have an unwavering record of doing everything that they can to inhibit and degrade General Aviation, and there is no doubt that if they are given control of the National Airspace System, this will continue to its ultimate state - the death of GA.

Why should anyone care? Because GA is the lifeblood of a huge percentage of our nation. In the state of Nevada (my home), there are only a few airports served by airlines - the rest of the isolated communities depend on GA for business, government, and emergency air transport. In addition, General Aviation is the breeding ground for new professional pilots - without it, there will be no new civilian pilots. And aviation technology feeds the economy in countless ways - its loss will have a huge negative economic impact on our nation.

ATC privatization is not only a bad idea for aviation, but for the entire country. It will set up a corporate monopoly on one of America's greatest contributions to the modern world - and to our own economy. Forget the direct impact on the hundreds of thousands of pilots who enjoy flying for its own sake, and their personal transportation - the rest of America will suffer as the airline corporations decide what is best for everyone.

Providing for the common good is one of the essential duties of government - and a safe, fair Air Traffic System is in everyone's best interest. We will not get that with the private system that has ben proposed.

Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

8 Replies to “The ATC Privatization Proposal - A Bad Idea for General Aviation”

  1. "...the President's statements are merely political posturing."

    His statements don't even rise to that level.

  2. A Trump supporter, I have to say "too bad". Obviously the airlines got to him. Who would he turn to for critique of this grotesque proposal??? EAA?-no money; AOPA? - David (against Goliath). FAA? de-facto disqualified to comment. Here it comes, folks.
    It was a great country and I got to experience it!

  3. We have to make ourselves heard...need to stand up...no more BS.
    Let's be honest, things are not going well in DC, and the brain trust there is trying to find anything that can be spun in a positive way. Most folks are ignorant about our air control system, so this is a GREAT political football. Don't let it happen...

  4. WARNING—RICK MERCER-ISH RANT FOLLOWS:

    Firstly, I would like to express my professional appreciation of Mr. Dye—we have not met but, as a fellow applied scientist (and pilot), I must take his words with substantial weight. Secondly, as a Canadian, I must express my condolences for the current President that our neighbours to the south must now endure.

    Due to being a very young ex-British colony, our bountiful natural resources, and our population control through education, we Canadians have had the luxury of evolving socially into wholeheartedly supporting the principals of United Nations peacekeeping (further to our previous foray of burning down the west wing of the White House some time ago, our politically active factions have learned from the Germans and the Japanese that it is better to lose to the Americans and receive the war reparations ;^). Although certainly far from perfect, we have also perceived the long-term benefits of planetary stewardship and of supporting equal quality of life for all citizens—including freedom of individual expression such as general aviation.

    But original Star Trek season 1, episode 26 “Errand of Mercy” aside, I would suggest that you take matters into your own hands as your fellow countryman Michael Moore suggests.

    With apologies...

    “Some of my best friends are American Trump supporters…I’m just not ever seen with them.”

  5. Trump is a mental midget that has no clue at many subjects like aviation . Canada trade , like soft wood lumber that we have won time after time and milk we buy more dairy from him and he blames us for the us dairy in the US,
    No Mr Trump when it comes to ATC you better get your self familiar with the system or talk to the pilots of your plane it is not that simple and don't be a know it all listen to the people that know , and that are not the airlines like they said it is giving the hwy to the truck drivers to regulate.

  6. I'm a Trump supporter mostly because he "Is Not Hillary" but he is dead wrong on this issue. What he is proposing is not new. I don't remember his name, but someone has been trying to get ATC privatization moving through Congress, and they wanted nothing to do with it. This guy has a personal relationship with someone close to Trump, and apparently, he got to him. For his proposal to fly (literally), he has to get Congress's approval. A lot of Congressmen (and women) use GA to get around their districts during election season (which begins when they are sworn into office, and ends when they retire.) The AOPA, and EAA are effective lobbyists with respect to aviation matters. We can't rest on our laurels, but as long as we fight, and support the aviation industry, I think we can kill ATC privatization once and for all.

  7. One has to understand how something works before replacing it with an unknown. Educating the masses is very difficult unless you place the consequences of mismanagement of a very complex system in their laps.

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