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Kan. airport manager warns that ATC privatization threatens general aviation
If a house resolution to privatize air traffic control passes, it
could mean new fees for every takeoff and landing by every airplane -
and give the commercial airlines unparalleled control of the nation's
airports.Newton City/County Airport Manager Brian Palmer sees the
action as the single largest threat to the airport in its history.
Air Traffic privatization a threat to Newton airport
By Chad Frey / Newton Kansan / @ChadFrey
Posted Nov 6, 2017 at 2:01 AM
Ask Pam Stevens if she can imagine life without the Newton City/County
Airport, and she’ll dip her head as she shakes it and give you a “I
don’t want to think about it” look. But not because she or her family
use the airport much. They do not. There are no commercial flights to
take her and her family off on a vacation.
The reason she doesn’t want to think about life in Newton without that
airport is that as director of the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce,
she sees the economic impact that the airport makes on not only Newton
but the county and region.
“It is very important,” Stevens said. “They have a lot of employees
out there. ... It is vital to our community.”
By a lot, she means more than 400 — a number confirmed by airport
management. Even more important to that number is who those employees
are. The vast majority do not work for the airport or the city. They
work for other companies like Park Aerospace, Hesston College and
Mennonite Press. They do not fuel airplanes or attend to air
passengers and pilots — they make parts, print books, spray farm
fields, fly air medical flights and train future pilots.
“You look at the businesses that have located there over the years,
and many of them want their own private plane to fly in and out with.
It is one of the gems in our community,” Stevens said. “We need to
take care of it.”
The estimated impact on the area community, according to airport
manager Brian Palmer, is around $68 million annually.
That means maintenance, and it means keeping an eye on possible
threats to the future of the airport. One of those future threats, at
this time, is in Congress.
“It is house resolution 2997,” Palmer said. “I would argue that this
bill is the greatest single threat to general aviation, and this
airport in particular, ever,” Palmer said. “I say that not to be an
alarmist, but to be a realist.”
That resolution, which according to Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan) is attached
as an amendment to a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation
Administration, would privatize air traffic control.
The resolution would, in effect, hand the keys of the national air
traffic control operations over to a quasi-governmental agency that
would be controlled by commercial airlines and their unions.
“I believe this would harm general aviation, and that is important to
Kansas,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan). “We manufacture those
airplanes. ... Our community airports would be left out of our air
traffic control system.”
Palmer, Moran and Estes all told The Kansan that the move could lead
to fees charged for every takeoff at every airport for any flight —
even for those private hobby fliers who are headed out on vacation.
That is significant for airports like Newton, where 100 of the 150
airplanes based at the airport are private flyers — people who own
their own airplanes.
There are 138 public use airports in Kansas, and only one where the
majority of revenue of the airport comes from commercial airlines.
“The majority (of private pilots) fly as a hobby,” Palmer said. “We
have already seen a decline in their flying because it is
discretionary income that they use to fly. with the uncertainty of the
economy over the past few years, that has dictated that they not use
that discretionary income for flying. ... Most of my customers here,
if it becomes pay to play, they will sell their airplanes and go buy
The plan is to establish a board to oversee a non-profit organization
that would control air traffic control. Eight of the 13 board members
would have a vested interest in a commercial airline.
“We really would have no checks and balances,” Estes said. ”... It is
a takeover of the air traffic control system. .... The risk is that
rates and fees go up for (general aviation) and their opportunity to
take off and land. ... We are working hard to stop it.”
His office is not the only one working on stopping this — Moran’s
office has been working on that as well. Moran said that the idea of
privatization appeals to some lawmakers — especially those of his own
party — but wants everyone to take a second look.
“You use the word privatization with Republicans and that may sound
good, but I can’t think of a single thing that is good about this,”
There are concerns above and beyond fees charged. The privatization
plan would grant significant control of the nation’s largest airports
to a private entity — and, according to Palmer, Estes and Moran — the
airlines by proxy.
“Today we have corporate flight departments, but if you tell me that I
can only fly into Washington National Airport, or Wichita, between
midnight and 6 a.m. to do business at noon, because that is my slot
and when the airlines are not using it, that becomes a problem,”
Palmer said. “Those corporations will say it is not worth the hassle.
.... They will find another way to do business. The reason that
companies have corporate flight departments is for ease of
If general and private aviation suffer, smaller airports like Newton
will suffer right along with it. That is what has so many concerned —
including Estes and Moran.
They both see this as a larger issue. Moran pointed to airports in
Kansas where businesses close to them rely on having access to an
airfield and it is critical to their business and turning over a
system constructed by taxpayers to a private entity. On this one, he
and Estes agree.
“This affects airports throughout the country, and you have a lot of
jobs that are tied to the airfield itself,” Estes said.
They also both have a concern about giving an infrastructure
constructed with public funds to a private entity. That infrastructure
cost about $40 billion to construct. Money to maintain the system is
generated through taxes on air travel tickets, aviation fuel and user
fees in aviation.
Estes told the Kansan that Congress needs to reauthorize the FAA, an
effort that Moran said this effort jeopardized. The last authorization
of the FAA expired Sept. 3. Congress took action to extend that
authorization and has placed a new bill on the docket that contains
the amendment to privatize air traffic control.
“We have five months left to convince them to take this out,” Estes
said. ”... We want to take that section out. We need to reauthorize
the FAA and reauthorize it permanently.”
Fight For ATC Just Warming Up
By Russ Niles | November 5, 2017
There are probably few people who know more about aviation safety than
former AOPA Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg so it would
seem to be a no-brainer that he cap his influential and important
career by becoming the newest member of the NTSB. But it’s a political
appointment and the politics of aviation safety are as skewed as they
are for anything else so if Lansberg’s appointment isn’t confirmed it
won’t be because he’s not qualified to work for the NTSB. It will be
because he's unable to work with politicians.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Landsberg was grilled over his
criticism of the so-called 1,500-hour rule, which requires new airline
pilots to have warmed a front window seat for that length of time
before getting a job. It doesn’t matter if it’s the well-worn foam
rubber of a Cessna trainer or the Nomex covering of a fighter jet,
once that clock ticks over, anyone who attains it is qualified, in the
simple world of the politicians who crafted it.
"Pilots should be hired and trained by solid criteria, not arbitrary
numbers,” Landsberg wrote in a 2010 blog post. This heresy of common
sense was too much for six senators who signed a letter before his
hearing pointing out his transgression of logic. After all, there
hasn’t been a major airliner crash since the law was passed so that
proves it works, doesn’t it? For Landsberg’s sake and the future of
aviation safety, we can only hope they don’t ask him that because
he’ll tell them.
While we wish Landsberg well and we’ll be following his progression,
his ordeal is a tawdry peep show that will become a trailer for the
grand drama that will play out next year.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s term ends on Jan. 1 and he will
leave a leadership vacuum at a time when the agency faces what many
regard as a fundamental threat to its effectiveness as the regulator
of the world’s most complex aviation system.
Huerta earned a reputation as a decent guy who did his best to do the
right thing without creating a lot of fuss. That led many to question
his effectiveness but I think we’ll have fond memories of his quiet,
some might say plodding, administration (which, by the way, built the
infrastructure for NextGen ATC despite numerous politically motivated
funding interruptions and delays and kept the system a leader in
safety, if not innovation).
It goes without saying that President Donald Trump, an unrepentant
cheerleader for removing air traffic control from the FAA’s purview by
way of a not-for-profit arm’s length corporation, will appoint a
candidate who mirrors those views.
The mind boggles at the possibilities but rest assured there will be a
single-minded set of priorities on the top floor at 800 Independence
and if you think ATC has been politicized to date, I think the highly
charged comments coming out of a corner office in faraway Oshkosh last
week offer a glimpse.
EAA Chairman Jack Pelton sounded like he was on the hustings himself
when he spun a series of hypotheses on the financial impact of
severing ATC from the FAA into a rhetorical rant on things Americans
“We’ve known it’s a bad idea for the federal budget, that it could
slow modernization, and could very well be unconstitutional,” the
normally straight-talking Pelton said in a statement on the financial
implications of creating a new ATC corporation. “Now we learn that its
budget impact could harm retirement pensions for veterans, funds for
victims of major floods, and those who require Medicare coverage.”
At the moment, most Senators agree that hiving off ATC is a bad idea
but, as we’ve seen with their simplistic handling of Landsberg’s
nomination, they might be out of their league with a dogma-driven,
fact-shy process that will try to bulldoze a compliant, or worse,
activist, administrator into the FAA’s top job.
Huerta himself suggested he knew where his money was going. At last
month’s NBAA convention he strayed from his usual bland
state-of-the-FAA report to issue a clear warning to delegates not to
“take a hard line” against the separation of ATC and presumably risk
isolating themselves from the new way of doing things.
He, like the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, appears to
have accepted the bitter pill as the only tonic that can solve the
chronic funding security issues facing the agency. If that’s the best
reason for this kind of initiative then something is clearly wrong
with the process. While government is always about compromise and give
and take, it should also always be about trying to make things better
for the people it serves, not just make serving them more expedient.
By the way, I for one have taken the pledge to never again refer to
the process of creating a separate ATC entity as “privatization”
because it is anything but that. It is the creation of a
private-sector monopoly which, in my opinion, is potentially
infinitely worse than the government autocracy that now exists because
there is no accountability or public recourse.
At NBAA, GA leaders repeatedly said “this is not privatization” while
standing under banners with slogans calling it just that. To its
credit, AOPA recognized the mixed message and there was internal
discussion of using the term “monopolization” instead but there’s no
evidence it gained any traction. We should get this straight because
while the political process will do its best to muddy its meaning,
those on the front lines should have a clear mandate and understanding
of its meaning in the fight.
With apologies to Chicken Little, the Constitution empowers the
Federal government to establish Post Offices and Post Roads. I must
have missed the part about air traffic control.
As to the regulation of Interstate Commerce, the Congress has
virtually unlimited latitude in that regard.
They even made the old Post Office Department into the
"semi-autonomous" (an oxymoron) U.S. Postal Service. Apparently, some
in Congress are intent on doing the same to the ATC function now
vested with the FAA.
It never made any sense to have ATC under the same roof as the
aeronautical rule-making and enforcement agency. Separating them makes
sense, regardless of the form that either of them may take or retain.
Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 5, 2017 3:54 PM
Regardless of the form?
Posted by: Eric Warren | November 6, 2017 3:24 AM
I suggest sticking with the word "privatization." That's what it is.
Yes, it's ugly. Yes, it results in a loss of accountability. Yes, it
probably ends up making everything more expensive. Yes, it probably
adds bureaucracy. Yes, we probably end up with fee-for-service and
everything that entails (lower safety, a new fee-collecting
infrastructure, disputes over fees paid, new leech industries to
"help" pilots "manage" fees, and so on).
But that's what privatization means in practice. If you're lucky, the
only thing that happens is that some monopoly takes it over and rakes
in private profits while cutting public service.
Posted by: James Carlson | November 6, 2017 6:17 AM
This is an imperfect world and most people want perfection. NOT going
Posted by: Don Lineback | November 6, 2017 6:42 AM
You add accountability by creating the new entity with a 9 person
board of directors with 3 year staggered terms (3 people elected each
year). One person each year is elected by votes from everyone with a
valid pilots license. One person each year is elected by votes from
everyone who owns a registered aircraft, one vote per aircraft. One
person each year is elected by votes from part 121 and part 135
Posted by: Dean Hiller | November 6, 2017 7:34 AM
"I suggest sticking with the word "privatization." That's what it is."
By the strict definition, yes. But we now live in a world where
framing is everything, and "privatization" makes it sound like the
happy-cheery world of the "free market", which this is not. There's no
competition and thus no external force to push service prices down
other than the "not-for-profit" part (but "not-for-profit" doesn't
mean the directors and everyone involved can't make a pretty earning).
The whole push for "privatization" is for the pie-in-the-sky theory
that it will lower costs and increase service, but we all know that
won't happen because it will effectively be a non-governmental (i.e.
no accountability) monopoly.
"You add accountability by creating the new entity with a 9 person
board of directors with 3 year staggered terms ..."
Why not just keep it under government control? That provides direct
accountability already. And the idea that the pilot community will
vote for the directors will almost certainly be just like all other
non-presidential votes: if people vote at all, most take the easy way
out by passing their vote to a proxy or vote "party line" (whatever
the equivalent will be for this).
Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 6, 2017 8:15 AM
I don't see the Post Office doing so well and they have competition in
the parcel and package arena. Next should we turn over control of
federal highways (Interstate Highway System). After all the long
distance trucking industry will be the first to embrace self driving
vehicles. The FAA may not be doing a great job but at least Congress
gets into the act and slowly pushes them to get somethings right.
I can not see the unfriendly folks who send my luggage to places
unknown, stuff us into seats that ancient torturer's would envy (I am
average sized and they still hurt), book 25 flights to depart form the
same airport within 5 minutes of each other, cancel flights due to
crew shortages, etc., etc. looking out for GA's interests.
Yesterday, was a great example of how the system works. Went up to get
some actual with a student. ATC (Cl C) and tower (Cl D)were more than
helpful in allowing us the ability to complete 3 approaches in under
1.5 hours and return to our little airport. Would an airline
controlled ATC allow that. What would it have cost us? Would we have
been charged for each ATC contact, each approach, each touch and go or
each frequency change? Would we have had to file our flight plan 24
hours, 3 days or how long before the flight? Would some ATC manager
decide that we were delaying the airline traffic and ground us?
Please keep ATC away from the airlines or private profit driven
Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | November 6, 2017 10:12 AM
They even made the old Post Office Department into the
"semi-autonomous" (an oxymoron) U.S. "Postal Service. Apparently, some
in Congress are intent on doing the same to the ATC function now
vested with the FAA. It never made any sense to have ATC under the
same roof as the aeronautical rule-making and enforcement agency.
Separating them makes sense, regardless of the form that either of
them may take or retain."
Sorry but that sounds like trying to have your cake and eat it too.
Search Google for "usps year in review 2016" and click the link for
the FY 16 annual report. Page 4 of the pdf file (page 2 in the lower
left corner of the page) will show the financials of the USPS for the
last 3 years. The federal government contributes money to the USPS
every year; the USPS has run a deficit (increasing annually) since
deregulation in 1971; and volume of mail has decreased in 2 of the
last 3 years. The thing that makes the most sense is for Congress to
quit playing politics with aviation safety and create a stable funding
source for the FAA.
Posted by: Jim Thrash | November 6, 2017 11:47 AM
You seem to be mis-interpreting my comment. Let me try to make it
Separating ATC from the rest of the FAA makes sense. Period.
How you implement that can range from fantastic to catastrophic.
Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 6, 2017 12:56 PM
The USPS and AmTrak are two fine examples of what happens when the
Congress creates a SEMI-autonomous creature, and then jerks its chain
endlessly. If Congress were to do the same thing with ATC, we could
expect similar results.
The text of the proposed legislation does NOT support your (and
others') assertion that the result will be an airline-controlled ATC.
That may be your nightmare, but the Bill doesn't provide for that
I'm an agnostic on this subject. But the unfounded and easily-debunked
hysteria that the Alphabets (and more than a few individuals) are
spewing on this topic undermines their credibility, and thus the
persuasiveness of their arguments.
Two problems need to be addressed:
The Congress continues to fail to do its job.
The NextGen system is a stinking pile of ****.
Saying "What we're doing now is just fine" does nothing to address
either of those two problems. Of course, some will assert that neither
of those problems is real.
Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 6, 2017 1:06 PM
"The text of the proposed legislation does NOT support your (and
others') assertion that the result will be an airline-controlled ATC."
It might not be airline-controlled, but it's certainly heavily
weighted to favor the airlines (they'll have 3 of the seats). That's
Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 6, 2017 2:05 PM
How is 1/3 of the seats "heavily weighted?" The airlines are a major
stakeholder - some might argue that they're the largest stakeholder.
What level of participation would satisfy you?
Dean had some interesting ideas above. But I could argue that
passengers should have a voice, too - not just the carriers that fly
them around. And what about the airport operators? Surely they'll have
something of value to add to the conversation.
Stakeholder identification MUST precede stakeholder weighting. When
you go to the well.....
Posted by: Tom Yarsley | November 6, 2017 2:34 PM
"How is 1/3 of the seats "heavily weighted?" "
You don't think 1/3 of all the seats by essentially a single entity
compared to 1 or 2 seats by others isn't heavily weighted? If I line
up 3 10lb weights on one side of a see-saw, 2 10lb weights on the
other, and 5 or so (however many it is) 10lb weights across the rest
of the see-saw, what do you think the chances are that the GA-friendly
side will outweigh or balance the airline-friendly side?
"What level of participation would satisfy you?"
How about an equal level of participation? I have equal access* to the
current ATC system and I want to make sure it stays that way, because
I pay my taxes too. Why not 1 part-121 rep, 1 part-135 rep, 1 part-91
rep, and 1 ATC rep. Add in 1 or 2 elected positions if you must. ALPA
doesn't need a say, because ATC Corp isn't making pilot rules, it's
* Actually, the airlines can get into DCA but I can't, so it's not
quite 100% equal access. But that's more TSA/Homeland Security's doing
than the FAA's, so it's not entirely fair to compare that to a
"private" ATC corporation.
Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 6, 2017 2:54 PM
Maybe the new FAA boss can be Bill Shuster! He loses his Transpo
Committee chair next term anyway, right?
Posted by: Art Friedman | November 6, 2017 3:33 PM
I think that if the FAA were to hire qualified people in all positions
the problem would be solved. My horrible experience with the FAA
Retards is not due to the regulations, it's how the unqualified
employees enforce them. Actually they don't enforce the regulations
because they don't know the regulations. But they are full of their
own "Fake" regulations and they seem to have the power to make them
stick. If you don't march to their drummer, you will end up on their
Caca Listo. I say the problem is the people not the regulations. When
I use the term "regulations" I do not include the thousands of Orders.
I can assure you that there are several FAA employees in the Nevada
FSDO that are totally void of any aviation background. And when you
try to move on of them off their wrong course you are in for a really
bad "flight". Kent
Posted by: Kent Tarver | November 6, 2017 9:00 PM
Add your comments
Fight For ATC Just Warming Up »
By Russ Niles | November 5, 2017
In a few months, the Trump administration will need a new FAA
administrator because Michael Huerta's last day in Jan. 1. Who it
picks and how it goes about getting him or her nominated could shape
U.S. aviation policy for decades to come. More ...
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