Stephen Hofer, President of the Aerlex Law Group, was interviewed about the pros and cons of air traffic control (ATC) privatization during the June 6th installment of Voice of America’s International Edition. Show host Lori Lundin conducted the interview with Hofer following President Donald Trump’s June 5th proposal to overhaul the nation’s ATC system.
ATC privatization has been debated since 1987 when President Reagan’s Commission on Privatization first urged the outsourcing of this portion of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Last year, Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, introduced privatization legislation in the House, but it never came to a vote. Following in Shuster’s footsteps, President Trump is offering a similar plan that would transfer the responsibility for the management of America’s airspace from the FAA to a private, non-profit board. This prospect of a non-profit board had stoked fears among members of the business aviation and general aviation communities who fear the big airlines would control the board and prioritize commercial flight concerns over everything else, ignoring the concerns of general aviation and dramatically boosting user fees.
Hofer addressed some of the potential benefits, disadvantages and complications of ATC privatization during the discussion with Lundin. He pointed out that the United States already has the safest air space in the world based on the number of flights versus the number of accidents, but said the FAA needs to move more quickly to embrace 21st Century technology and implement an ATC system based on satellite tracking capabilities and state-of-the-art aircraft communications systems rather than outdated ground-based radar.
At the same time, however, Hofer said political gridlock in Washington and the unwillingness of Congress to properly fund the FAA over a period of many years has significantly impeded the FAA’s ability to implement the latest technology, insufficient money leading to a lack of trained personnel and sophisticated equipment. Hofer expressed doubt whether a private agency could do much better unless it significantly increased revenue, most likely through a combination of higher ticket prices and airport user fees.
The President has said he wants to privatize ATC within three years, but Hofer said that, realistically, it would probably take seven-to-ten years to accomplish once Congress agrees to it. Finally Hofer noted that there are other nations that have privatized their systems, Canada as an example, but said none of them are as large or complicated as the United States air traffic control system, and these other national systems do not prove that privatization of ATC would work in the U.S.
To hear the complete interview, use this Voice of America link: