In a surprise move yesterday, President George 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.
"The administration's position is particularly incomprehensible at a time when the government is taking airport security functions away from private industry and consolidating homeland security into a huge new department."
Boyer pointed out that Congress has historically opposed ATC privatization schemes like those in Canada and Great Britain. Both of those systems have encountered financial difficulties when downturns in air traffic meant not enough money was being generated to run the air traffic control systems.
AOPA, using its strong Washington-based legislative affairs staff and its Political Action Committee, will continue to work with Congress to keep ATC a government function.