The U.S House of Representatives has introduced a FAA reauthorization bill that has more fantasy in it than a George RR Martin novel. The bill, known as the "Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act" and submitted by Republican Bill Shuster (PA), has a sprinkling of items that will appeal to some general aviation advocates, but is overwhelmed by- excuse me for another Game of Thrones reference- the dragon in the room.
That would be the privatization of air traffic control. As I have previously written, running the national air space system needs to be a government function and Congress can't simply abrogate its responsibility to fund it properly.
Over at Kings Landing, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold hearings starting Wednesday, February 10.
However, this bill has the markings of trying to split the aviation community. How so? Well, it contains lots of things most of us like. The bill eliminates costly and inefficient medical certification for many recreational pilots (not pilots who are paid to fly) and mandates certification reform and improvements in other FAA services. Terrific.
But everyone's costs of flying- including all of us who fill the seats on commercial airlines will go up because this new non-profit, private corporation will have the power to levy user fees to use the airspace system. User fees are taxes. And having a non-government entity implement taxes is squarely the definition of taxation without representation.
While there is bipartisan opposition to the bill (Democrats are generally against it and so are Republicans from states with heavy aviation presence, such as Kansas), supporters say privatization works elsewhere, notably Canada. And they have some limited good points. Canada turned over the entire air traffic system to a new entity known as NavCanada. While there are user fees, they currently run less than $50 a year for most single engine airplanes. And NavCanada has been credited with technology improvements.
But the Canadian air space serves only a fraction of the air travelers and planes that the United States does and Canada's airspace is far less complicated. And the cost to commercial operators, including the vast number of small, mom and pop shops that make up general aviation, will face higher costs in not just the fees, but in collecting and turning over the fees. Further, remote and hard to get to areas of the country will suffer because the cost of implementing new technology won't be supported under the new business plan of a private entity.
Many, but not all the airlines, support privatization. The airlines are the largest user of the airspace and as the largest customer of this new private entity, will have disproportionate influence over it, as well as the union's that will be represented on the new entity's board of directors.
Finally, this isn't really privatization. It is instead a quasi-private-government entity, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And I ask you, how has that worked out?
The bottom line: the airspace is public and open to all. It's Congress's job to fund it and the government's job to run it.