ATC privatization

As you may know, the White House recently convinced Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee to contract out the operation of 69 air traffic control towers to the lowest bidder. The towers on ths list include Prescott and Scottsdale, AZ; Van Nuys (the busiest general aviation airport in the world) and Santa Monica, CA; Centennial and Jeffco, CO; Fort Lauderdale and Tamiami, FL; Dupage and Palwaukee, IL; Hanscom Field, MA; Flying Cloud, MN; Spirit of St. Louis, MO; Caldwell and Morristown, NJ; Hillsboro, OR; Addison, TX; Manassas, VA; Boeing Field, WA; and many others. (The full list is available

This decision was a direct repudiation of bipartisan votes in the House and Senate for legislation that would permanently prohibit privatization of air traffic control.

The record of privatized ATC in other countries is not encouraging. According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), since Britain’s privatized National Air Traffic System (NATS) was established in 2001, the government has been forced to provide financial bailouts valued at two-thirds of the system’s original sale price. NATS expects a 230-billion-pound ($406 billion) shortfall in its budgeted income over the next four to five years. Meanwhile, technological failures have led to multiple system shutdowns and operational irregularities, and staff morale continues to be at all-time lows. The records of Airservices Australia and Nav Canada are similarly disheartening.

ATC in the United States could start down this same slippery slope if the bill crafted by a few members of Congress is passed in September, which is when it’s scheduled for a vote. (In a remarkably cynical move, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the committee that adopted this provision, protected his own towers in Alaska from privatization.)

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) launched a national television and radio campaign on Aug. 25 to send a message that air safety would be jeopardized by this privatization plan. To see their radio, TV, and print ads, here.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue: pundits from across the political spectrum, Tom Daschle to Rush Limbaugh, agree that privatizing ATC is a bad idea. I think every US pilot should give this issue careful consideration. More information is available Please contact your representative and senators to express your opinion.


This same isue comes up with every president. Seems someone in the Executive budget office as the bright idea that privateization of ATC will save a lot of federal dollars. But this issue, for once, has Congress thinking straight and each time this comes up, the Congress ALWAYS votes it down. That trend should continue.

Roger: Privatization of control towers is not something new. It is certainly not unusual to see “NFCT” on charts. I had been based at an airport (FMY) which changed (years ago) form Fed to private.

As I understand it, at least this was the case at that tower, the staffing went from the fed minimum (for that level of tower) of 10 to 4, I believe. That is a pretty compelling number when you speak about savings. The fed government still pays the bills. Pilots are not billed directly for services but indirectly by our fuel taxes (a perfect ‘user fee’ if I a say so).

If this is all that is happening, then it is no big deal. BUT, if it is an incremental approach to the privatization of the entire system, then it would be a bad thing.

You’re 100% correct — but it sure wouldn’t hurt to remind the folks in the House and Senate that they should continue to oppose privatization.


Roger: Todays Aero News Net quotes the AOPA trying to clarify the spin on the issue, reportedly placed by the ATC union. Acording to the article, the AOPA has not problem with the move, explaining that may pilots already fly from airfields with NFCTs and are happy with the service.

Given how (thankfully) rabid the AOPA is in fighting any perceived slight or infringement on our flying “rights,” I am willing to support the AOPA’s position.

Going to []AOPA’s{/url] web site, here is a quote from their position:

In reply to:

Aug. 28 — AOPA members are asking about TV ads claiming that Congress is about to privatize air traffic control. Others have been asked to sign post cards misrepresenting both AOPA’s position and what Congress has done. Both the ads and the cards are the efforts of labor unions. And both are bending the truth.

“Make no mistake. AOPA is adamantly opposed to any effort to privatize air traffic control or charge user fees for safety services,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We have fought, and will continue to fight, attempts to take the responsibility for aircraft separation and control away from the federal government.

“If anybody tries to tell you that AOPA supports privatizing ATC, you tell them that’s a damned lie,” Boyer said. “AOPA is dedicated to the benefit of all general aviation, particularly GA pilots. It’s a much broader vision than that of a union leader.”

(reprinted from the Public portion of the web site.)

Please see the entire story for a full review of AOPA’s position.