AOPA says a proposal to commercialize the air traffic control (ATC) system is "a solution in search of a problem."
A Reason Public Policy Institute study, funded in part by several large airlines, advocates creating a government-owned corporation, much like the postal service, to run ATC. The corporation would charge user fees for air traffic control safety services.
"But the real problem is the lack of runways," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It doesn't matter what changes you make to air traffic control if there aren't enough runways to handle the aircraft at the end of the flight.
"This proposal does absolutely nothing to address the major cause of airline delay. Commercializing ATC doesn't build more runways."
Boyer noted that Mitre Corporation and FAA studies predict that the most sweeping changes to ATC technology would only yield a 10- to 15-percent increase in capacity. But a new runway at a delay-plagued airport would increase capacity there 40 to 80 percent.
"The time for user fees schemes had passed," said Boyer. "The new AIR-21 legislation provides sufficient funds to modernize ATC."
Congress has also exempted the FAA from burdensome federal procurement and personnel rules, allowing the agency to move quickly to acquire modern equipment and make necessary changes in staffing.
And air traffic control is now starting to operate under "corporate" structure, with a board of directors providing management advice and a chief operating officer (COO) with the authority to manage all aspects of air traffic control.
"All of the elements of a corporate structure that are supposed to lead to greater efficiency are now in the place," said Boyer. "Let's give these significant reforms a chance to work."