Privatizing ATC

bobbysamd

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Saw this article on my AOPA Newsletter:

==> GA NEWS <==

BUSH TAKES STEP TOWARD PRIVATIZING ATC
In a surprise move last week, President Bush took the first steps toward
privatizing air traffic control services. The president said ATC is not
"an inherently governmental function." He modified the executive order
creating an air traffic control "performance based organization," removing
the language that would have kept ATC within the government. A privatized
ATC would undoubtedly be financed by user fees. "We're absolutely flabbergasted
that the administration thinks that aviation security and safety aren't a
government function," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We must never forget
that the primary function of air traffic control is public safety. And ATC's
role in security was never more evident than on September 11." See
http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2002/02-2-192x.html

Students of airline history will note that ATC began as an airline-run function back in the thirties before Uncle Sam took it over. Some people regard the system as antiquated because it uses 1960s technology. Controllers have been screaming for new technology for years.

Conservatives would feel that privatizing ATC is a good idea because only users of it would pay for it. But, think about that for a moment. I remember taking my Private and maybe one or two other writtens twenty years ago for free on Uncle Sam. Then, the Reagan administration put the FAA out of the written test-giving business and we had to start paying. So, if this proposal goes through, somehow, we, as pilots, would pay for ATC. Good idea? Bad idea? Would privatizing ATC improve its technology and/or, more importantly, safety and quality of service?

Thoughts, anyone?
 

chawbein

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Not that I want to pay it, but I think that it is the fairest way for everyone. I think that it will become more efficient and the costs won't be too high.
 

alimaui

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Well, some ATC facilities are already contracted out. In fact I think for the most part in the SW US (except for the big airports) they are all privately run.

But I think with any paying/pay for operation there will be politics involved. This being applied to the aviation industry, at some point I think it could compromise safety.

Ali
 

bobbysamd

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Upping the cost of flying.

Some people might argue that privatizing ATC would make flying too expensive for the average Joe and skew the ATC system more toward the airlines than it already is. Don't forget, the average Joe is your future trainee and possible student at your big 141 school.

It's been several years since I've reviewed Part 141. Aren't tower-controlled fields a requirement for schools to be certified under 141? I can't remember for sure. Maybe not. If so, privatizing ATC will up the cost of training. I worked at three 141 schools and all were based at controlled fields.
 
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Andy Neill

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I think we are missing something here. We are ALREADY paying for ATC. If you look at the details of the federal budget, you will see that most, if not all, FAA expenses (including R&D) are paid for with the Aviation and Airport Trust Fund. The source of revenue to the trust fund is the federal taxes that we all civil users pay on aviation fuel. This works out to the neighborhood of $13 Billion a year. As long as the fuel taxes we paid are put in an account that would fund the privatized ATC (or if the taxes were terminated if we are to pay for ATC services), there would be no appreciable change felt.

Here is some info found on the web:

Background and General Information on the Aviation Trust Fund
The Airport and Airway Trust Fund was created in 1970 to provide user-fee funding for capital improvements to the nation's airport and airway system. At a later date, authority was provided to cover some Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operating expenses.

The aviation trust fund receives its revenue primarily from user fees, including a tax on domestic airline tickets, a cargo waybill tax, and international departure tax, and taxes on aviation fuel used by general aviation, plus interest on the unspent balance of the trust fund. According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, annual user fee tax revenues into the trust fund will grow from $7.7 billion in FY 1998 to $11.0 billion in FY 2003.

The trust fund provides 100% of the financing for several FAA programs including: the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the Facilities and Equipment program (F&E), and the Research, Engineering and Development program (R,E&D). It also funds around 50% of the FAA's Operations and Maintenance programs with the remainder of money coming from general appropriated funds.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Airport and Airway Trust Fund accumulated significant unexpended balances. These balances were drawn down during FY 1996 and FY 1997 when authority to collect taxes for the trust fund expired on two separate occasions, costing the trust fund approximately $5 billion in lost revenues. In 1997, the aviation taxes were reinstated.

When the trust fund has an unexpended balance (similar to the Social Security Trust Fund), it allows user fee revenue to be diverted to unintended uses, such as helping mask the size of the federal deficit, which allows the government to claim a budget surplus when none would exist. Under current revenue and spending policies, the uncommitted balance in the trust fund will grow to a record $22.3 billion by the end of FY 2003 and could potentially reach $52 billion by FY 2008 according to FAA data.
 

cessna_driver2

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think we are missing something here. We are ALREADY paying for ATC. If you look at the details of the federal budget, you will see that most, if not all, FAA expenses (including R&D) are paid for with the Aviation and Airport Trust Fund. The source of revenue to the trust fund is the federal taxes that we all civil users pay on aviation fuel. This works out to the neighborhood of $13 Billion a year. As long as the fuel taxes we paid are put in an account that would fund the privatized ATC (or if the taxes were terminated if we are to pay for ATC services), there would be no appreciable change felt.
Andy Neill

I'm willing to bet that if they do privatize ATC. The taxes on fuel will not change. It's free money to the FEDS. They Definitely will not give up free money. Look how long it took for them to open up the trust fund to begin with. It took AIR-21 to open up the million dollar trust fund. And that barely got pushed through.

I honestly feel if ATC go private, There will be more delays, more congestion, and more of a hazard to everyone. We all know that a company only looks at it's profits. If it can do something cheaply why spend money to improve it. (If it isn't broke don't fix it)

In addition, both Canada and the UK had (if not still have) private ATC and it has gone Tango Uniform several times and proven to a very bad idea.
 

Timebuilder

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Privatizing ATC? It's a bad idea. Talk to some European students (most of us have) and get a feel for the costs involved when you pay for ATC on a per use basis instead of the current system.

Aircraft rental in Engalnd? $160 per hour for an OLD 172, plus fuel at several dollars per gallon. Touch and goes? $5 US for each trip around the pattern. Is it any wonder that the whole world comes here to train?

How about $10 for a weather briefing? $15 for an IFR clearance?
Think this won't happen? Ask yourself, when you are in a hospital, how much do they charge for a common aspirin? In 1981 I was charged $3 PER TABLET.

This is a VERY bad idea. If there was ever a time that pay for use was ill advised, this is it.
 

tarp

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The privitizing is so bad on so many levels.

The first argument is flawed - a service provided to aviation so that only the users should pay. Really? Only pilots are protected and served by ATC? My general impression is that ATC keeps airplanes from getting tangled in the air. Is that a service to us (the crazy pilots) or the general public? Let about six planes get tangled in the air and start raining down on the public and they will cry for the government to take over and protect them. By the way, let six airplanes tangle in the air and the law suits start flying and then how do you find a company who would take on this liability? The FAA protects the public not the pilots. Everyone on this board needs to stop this argument first. We swallowed this "kool-aid" back three administrations ago.

Someone said there are private towers. No. there are towers that are staffed by "contractor" rather than federal employees. This is still a government operation. NFCT's are not paid for by private funds, they are paid by everyone's taxes.

And like everyone else I agree that no one will mention a word about returning the millions in taxes to the pilots so they can now "pay" for this service. We will still have a tax on fuel and then you'll have to pay $5 for every ATC landing.

I hate big government but it has uses. We need defense, we need a police force, we need those parts that protect the public from themselves. I believe it is the definition of a civil society.
 

bobbysamd

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141 school airports

FYI I looked up Part 141 to see if such schools require a controlled field. They do not. 14 CFR 141.38 sets forth the airport requirements for a 141 school. It just says, basically, that the school must have continuous use of the airport and the airport must have adequate runways, etc.

Privatization turns on the issue of safety. We don't need to engage in a discussion of Constitutional law to analyze ATC privitization. Tarp is right. ATC privitization involves far more than making "pilots" pay for ATC services, because the costs will be passed on to everyone who uses the services, e.g., all of the flying public. The government has a duty to ensure that flying is safe and must assume that responsibility itself.

Not to open another can of worms, but now I'm wondering if George W. has suggested that the FAA be placed under the new Homeland Security Department. I don't believe he has.
 

Clearsky

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Communications fee, navigation fee, landing fee(including T&Gs, $60 for each in Switzerland so I hear), parking fee, flight plan needed for every flight, huge fuel and maintenance prices. Europe sounds like fun.
 

ifly4food

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Well, let's see...

Airport security used to be private. It was contracted out by the airlines to the lowest bidder. Along came Argenbright. We all know what a great job they and the other security companies did. Do we really want Argenbrights as air traffic controllers?

Think about the joke security is and what a mess it's going to be to federalize it.

As long as anything is privatized, it will be run like a business. It will be contracted out to the lowest bidder and the quality of service will reflect this. Have we learned nothing from the airport security mess?

USA Today did an article last week detailing industries since they have been deregulated. They included airlines, utilities, etc. Not a single industry improved service or lowered costs since they were deregulated. This would be the industry equivalent of privatized ATC. Though ATC would still be regulated, by taking its day to day operations out of the government's hands, costs (to the user) would go up and quality of service would decline.

Privitization of ATC is a huge mistake.
 

FlyinBrian

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I don't think complete privatization is a good idea... But I don't buy a lot of the arguments here against it. You really think government will do a better job than private industry? I think Some folks over in Eastern Europe tried that approach to economics awhile back. It didn't go well. Out here in Arizona, many towers are publicly funded, Non-government towers. In other words, taxes pay for them, but they have to compete for governement contracts. The NFCT's around here provide better service for a lower cost than the Fed towers around here do. For those who are local to the phoenix area just fly from CHD to FFZ and back a few times and compare the controllers. The CHD controllers do a MUCH better job, and they don't even have radar like FFZ does. This is because the tower manager insists on perfection because his contract could go to another company if they don't do it right. Competing for dollars encourages excellence. I would not be opposed to partial privatization of ATC, although it must remain publicly funded. (user fees are definitely a bad idea) The political scientist in me considers ATC a service that it is impossible to limit the beneficiaries of. Such services require public funding. But opening up ATC service to competition will only improve it.

As for airport security, granted that Argenbright sucks, but it remains to be seen whether or not the government can do it any better. So far, the only changes are that pilots are 15 minutes later to every flight and the security paychecks come from the U.S. Treasury.

I guess I'm a middle-of-the-roader on this issue. I really can't think of much that the federal government does well. And being a fiscal conservative, I like to see competition introduced wherever possible because it ultimately benefits the consumer.
 

vja217

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Don't let AOPA's jumping to conclusions affect you. No pilot will support pay-for-service ATC, and the politicians know this. We must remember though that we are indeed a minority, and most people outside of aviation would not want their tax money going for our current "free" ATC system because they either don't use it, don't know that they use it, don't know that it exists, or just don't care. These people would just assume we have the European system, where user fees pay for the system.

We cant deny it - from a business or political perspective, this makes the most sense. However, I am a pilot, and I know this will make the hobby that I enjoy so much, so much more expensive, and therefore I do not support it at all. This is the response AOPA is trying to illicit from its members, like me, and its working.

However, I'm not sure this "pay-for-use" system that AOPA is implicating is exactly what the Bush administration has in mind. Instead of being a totally privatized organization, financed by user fees, as AOPA guesses, what I take out of the legislation is something like a private company getting awarded an ATC contract, which would be wholly subsidized by the government.

An ATC once told me that the current FAA ATC program was the "most wasteful, inefficient, unorganized program in the entire government".

A privatized ATC program like many of the contract towers out there would allow a private company come in, and create a less expensive, less beurocratic, and more efficient ATC program, which would cost the tax payers less that the current one does. This is what I would support - it is a win-win for everyone except employees of the current system which is oversized and inefficient as it is. The taxpayers would pay less, and pilots wouldnt pay more, and yet they would enjoy a more effective and efficient system.

I don't consider myself a republican or believe that the government is always the problem, but in this case I think we in the pilot community have a lot to gain from a privatized ATC system, that is actually held somewhat accountable in terms of performance, so long as we don't have to pay anything more than we already do.

Max
 

HvyjetFO

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BAD Idea

Privitization is an awful idea.

1) Lowest bidder concerns.

2) Labor / management in contract negotiation that could lead to a controller walkout. Empty radar rooms, cancelled flights, loss of Billions to the airline industry...nuff said.

3) Canada is privatized and it has created numerous problems.

4) Possibility of user fees.

I could go on and on about how bad an idea this is. A better solution is to upgrade ATC equipment so that the controllers have better tools to utilize the ATC system properly.

Hvy
 

skydiverdriver

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I agree that this is a really bad idea. I think they should get rid of the red tape that is hampering ATC's modernization, but not to run it as a profit corporation. ATC still has many secret operations, so it would have to remain a government function. I would hate to have our ATC system start to look like the post office. Scary.
 

FlyinBrian

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2) Labor / management in contract negotiation that could lead to a controller walkout. Empty radar rooms, cancelled flights, loss of Billions to the airline industry...nuff said.
Isn't that the point of a strike? Nobody around here seems to mind when it's a pilot strike.
 

skydiverdriver

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You think that a pilot strike and a strike by controllers are the same thing? What if our Air Force decided to go on strike? Strikes by federal workers are illegal, and a threat to national security. Pilot strikes are not illegal. I don't see how you can relate the two.
 

Timebuilder

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True, Brian. An airline stike affects the struck airline and it's customers. An ATC strike would affect ALL flying, including people who are not direct parties to the negotiation. In addition, national security would be compromised.

Those issues would be problems for me.
 

Ned

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What is wrong with ATC?

Why do we need to change it? What is going to be better about a system that is private? In the last 5+ years and 700 hours I've flown I have had no problems with the system. I always get a weather briefer, I get accurate weather 99% of the time. My flight plans are always waiting at the tower if I'm IFR. Maybe once in 5 years I have been denied flight following by ATC when VFR. Sure I've encountered a few bone head controllers but thats not going away with a private system. So what is it that we gain by going private?
 
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