Is Privatization Next for Air-Traffic Controllers?

With the threat of more FAA furloughs looming, airline industry talk of privatizing the nation’s air-traffic control system is heating up—even among groups that were once dead-set against it.

Do air-traffic controllers have a job too important to be threatened by politics?

It’s not a theoretical question. With funding for the Federal Aviation Administration—and potential furloughs—continually an issue in the era of sequestration, the idea of privatizing the system is starting to gain some traction. More details:

The issue: Although the FAA earned a reprieve from harsh funding cuts earlier this year, sequestration will require new cuts when the 2014 fiscal year begins October 1. The next round of cuts is being described as more significant than the previous ones. As a result, airline groups are discussing other options to consistently fund operations and projects like building the $42 billion NextGen satellite navigation network. “There are conversations taking place among the stakeholders,” Gerald Dillingham, the civil aviation director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, told Bloomberg. “All things are on the table, including privatization or corporatization.”

Open for discussion: Once seen as a nonstarter politically, the idea is starting to gain wings among some airline groups. “We should have this discussion,” said Paul Rinaldi, of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, at a recent conference. “I don’t have the answers, but I do know the current system is broken.” Similarly, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, though it says it has not changed its position on the current system, has expressed openness to discussion of how the FAA is funded and managed. A lot of questions remain, such as how service would be paid for. Proposals to fund the system through flight fees (a common method abroad) have gone nowhere politically under the Bush and Obama administrations, and the National Business Aviation Association is among those against such a move.

If the U.S. is interested in privatizing air-traffic control, Nav Canada, the nonprofit corporation built around that country’s system, is an example that has worked effectively, Bloomberg reported.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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