There are reasons why many foreign airlines send new aviation students to the United States for their training. In most cases, flight schools are considerably cheaper for students to afford rather than having to pay sometimes double for their training. Aside from the fact that America is perhaps the founder of aviation itself, America has the largest population of pilots in the world. Notably, general aviation pilots, airline pilots, controllers, and many other aviation-related workers use the government implemented Federal Aviation Administration for things like weather observation, air traffic control, licensing of aircraft, and much more. Most recently, the 45th President, Donald J. Trump has been pushing new legislation to privatize air traffic control, effectively handing ATC over to a private non-profit organization that will oversee ATC operations. Stating “If we adopt these changes, Americans can look forward to cheaper, faster and safer travel – a future where 20% of a ticket price doesn’t go to the government, and where you don’t have to sit on a tarmac or circle for hours and hours over an airport – which is very dangerous also – before you land.” (Martin 1) Despite the promises of reducing airline delays, the movement to NextGen technology, and the apparent idea that privatization will benefit all within the aviation industry. The privatization of air traffic control will not only diminish the general aviation community but will have disastrous effects on numerous aspects of our modern system.
Air Traffic Control is seldom thought of when it comes to the average person. Most people even mistake ground marshals, those who guide aircraft to their respective gate parking, as “air traffic controllers”, but the reality is almost every flight in the county connects to many air traffic controllers, including small general aviation aircraft. If you’ve ever been on a commercial flight chances are that your pilot has spoken to 3 or 4 controllers already, because there are specific controllers who specialize in ground movement, approach/departure control, and tower control. The importance of proper controllers leads to successful traffic flow around the nation, as thousands of aircraft are flown every day. In fact, the United States has the most congested airspace in the world handling almost 87 thousand flights a day. Obviously making all that traffic fly around the county is a very big responsibility that is further enforced by having to balance flow between commercial airliners, general aviation, military, and corporate traffic.
In the United States, every procedure must be approved by the FAA itself, such as the designation of different classes of airspace in which special flight rules are enforced, to further enhance the safety of pilots and their passengers. Being an air traffic controller unto itself is a processes of 4 or more years, conducting FAA approved training courses and making sure that future controllers are well practiced, and are proficient in their knowledge of aeronautical science. So to say that the system that we currently use is unsafe is not exactly true.
Flying is not for everyone keep in mind. it can be rather expensive, but it has been declining steadily. According to 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Defense, the average airfare for a domestic flight by a US airline carrier, was approximately $366 USD, significantly lower then in earlier years showing that rates have substantially decreased since the earliest entry of 1979 with a rate of $617 USD, a $251 decrease in airfares. But what about all those general aviation pilots? Considering the cost of obtaining a private pilot’s license is around $9,900 USD (Aparicio 2), as well as owning, operating, and maintaining an aircraft or perhaps renting an aircraft it is safe to say that it can be expensive to be a pilot. In short, the privatization of air traffic control could possibly introduce fees that could effectively limit the amount of available pilots, and future students who can’t afford these new fees. Additionally, such new fees and taxes could potentially increase the demand of pilots in the already established pilot shortage, ones who’ve obtained the necessary requirements to do so. ” In response to the 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, New York, the FAA and Congress increased the flying time required for an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) rating to 1,500 hr. from 250.” (Swelbar 58) having to go through this amount of training with these newly established fees can bring disastrous results to the Airline industry as well as the pilots who want to become commercial pilots.
In favor of this new legislation, many who are for privatization have looked at Canada’s ATC platform of something that could be enforced for the United States. The Canadian ATC system is known as NAV CANADA. “NAV CANADA is a non-share capital, private corporation and recovers its costs through a system of service charges in accordance with the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act, S.C. 1996, c. 20 (the ANS Act). NAV CANADA invoices and collects charges to cover the costs of the air navigation services provided or made available by the Corporation or a person acting under the authority of the Minister of National Defense,” (Customer Guide to Charges NAV Canada 5). Because NAV CANADA is a private corporation there funding is not from the government, but rather the various fees and taxes imposed on Canadian pilots, controllers, and airlines. For example, aircraft with a Canadian registration are given daily, annual, and quarterly charges based on various quantities such as weight and location. “This Daily Charge applies in addition to the existing Annual and Quarterly charges. The Annual and Quarterly charges do not count towards the annual maximum pertaining to the new Daily Charge,” (Customer Guide to Charges NAV Canada 12). You could say this fee is similar to what the airports charge for aircraft storage in the United States, however it is considerably more money spent compared to the FAA’s regulations on airport related fees. It should be noted that I am not trying to say that NAV CANADA is a bad system, but compared to the FAA I feel as that our government backed system saves aviators money by being backed by the government who can obtain a majority of it’s funding through the tax money already given to the United States government.
Perhaps the most affected of privatized ATC are the controllers themselves. As stated before, controllers are government workers. Without the backing of the government, controllers would need to put all their faith in this new system that can’t be policed by the government themselves. In addition, all government benefits that controllers have access to, such as healthcare needs, could be limited , or in extreme cases completely destroyed altogether. Future controllers who are students currently also have much to worry about. If this new organization is implemented what is going to be done to ensure that ATC students can still work as certified controllers? Or perhaps what will become of controllers who just achieved their certification to control traffic? And what will become of the FAA as a whole? These are rather scary questions to ask supporters of privatization that most controllers and students. Having all that hard work being thrown away because it doesn’t meet the standards of the new organization is detrimental. And what of controllers already in the FAA? Implementation could cost more money being sucked out of these controllers if every one needs to get retrained or reevaluated, not to mention what the effects of traffic flow could happen during the transitional phase.
Trump’s idea that ATC even has any effects on things such as pace of traffic flows and decreasing delays is completely false. Delays can have many factors but most lead to two sources, airlines and weather. Weather is a large factor of aviation. It can determine whether or not an aircraft can safely fly. We have the technology to automatically obtain weather, and to predict weather patters days before it occurs, but weather is something we can’t control. However something we can control is the airlines causing delays. One problem in particular is overbooking flights, causing cramped aircraft that require longer boarding and disembarking times. Pace of traffic can also be an effect of the airlines as well, with airlines sending multiple flights on the same route to accommodate for mass booking . With increased traffic in already congested airspace traffic flow could cause more delays with aircraft needing to hold in holding patters.
Air traffic control has come a long way from it’s first implementation. It is because of the FAA that we have such a great aviation system. Supporters of privatization take the FAA and it’s controllers for granted, they’ve lost faith in a system that is in no need of reform. With the dissolution of a government backed ATC system the effects could potentially remove the greatness of the United State’s aviation. It’s benefits do not outweigh it’s expensiveness, and possible drawbacks. We lead the world in aviation. We are the founders of it entirely. Our stance in the world as a place to learn to fly, to learn to control, is the result of our success with a government backed Air Traffic Control system.