AOPA members are asking about TV ads claiming that Congress is about to privatize air traffic control. Others have been asked to sign postcards misrepresenting both AOPA's position and what Congress has done. Both the ads and the cards are the efforts of labor unions. And both are bending the truth.
"Make no mistake. AOPA is adamantly opposed to any effort to privatize air traffic control or charge user fees for safety services," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We have fought, and will continue to fight, attempts to take the responsibility for aircraft separation and control away from the federal government.
"If anybody tries to tell you that AOPA supports privatizing ATC, you tell them that's a damned lie," Boyer said. "AOPA is dedicated to the benefit of all general aviation, particularly GA pilots. It's a much broader vision than that of a labor union."
"You have to understand a union's motivation," Boyer said. "Their primary job is to protect the jobs and the work rules of the federal workers who are their members. And AOPA certainly has no gripe with the dedicated, hard-working air traffic controllers who supply needed services to the entire aviation community.
"However, AOPA's job is to protect pilots, airports, and general aviation. That's why we support the FAA reauthorization bill (also called Vision 100). The bill actually prevents ATC privatization for at least four years.
"Now let's consider what else the bill does for general aviation," Boyer continued. "It adds new protections from the 'pilot insecurity' rules. It provides some $3.2 billion for improving airports, some of that earmarked specifically for general aviation airports. It will force the government to reexamine and justify airspace restrictions like the Washington ADIZ or the 'Mickey Mouse TFRs.' It adds new penalties to prevent another airport closing like Meigs Field.
"Those things aren't necessarily a labor union's first priority, but they're all very important to general aviation pilots."
The TV ad would make you think that the bill before Congress would privatize all of air traffic control. But the bill actually prohibits transferring ATC out of the government for at least four years.
When you watch and listen very carefully, the ad is really talking about a part of the bill that directs the FAA to look at some 69 control towers and consider whether any of them should be staffed with contract employees.
AOPA worked with the controllers union as the bill moved through Congress. The association parted company with the union on the issue of contracting some services. That's nothing new; AOPA and the union have for years agreed to disagree on contracting. Some of the unions wanted language that would have prohibited contracting out anything in the FAA. That would have meant, for example, that the FAA couldn't hire a contractor to cut the grass outside the ARTCC building or mop the floor in the cafeteria.
Many AOPA members fly from airports with contract towers already, and most report they are pleased with the service. Contract towers are less expensive for the taxpayer as well.
The bill does not require the FAA to contract any of those 69 towers. The FAA has already told Congress it does not want to contract those towers or any busy or IFR towers.
With the exception of those towers, the bill does have a four-year moratorium prohibiting the FAA from transferring aircraft separation and control functions to any public or private entity other than the U.S. government.
"We are disappointed that the reauthorization bill stops short of declaring ATC 'inherently governmental,' as AOPA's members wanted," said Boyer. "This means the issue of privatizing air traffic control will continue to be a distraction for government policy makers and the aviation community. But it also means ATC is protected for four years, and that gives us four more years to work with Congress on strengthening and extending that protection. And frankly, the chance of actually contracting out any of those towers exempted in the bill is miniscule.
"It's not the best bill in the world. Like all far-reaching legislation, it was born of compromise," Boyer said. "But those compromises include significant benefits for general aviation and the more than 550,000 GA pilots. And most important, it prevents ATC privatization, and it prevents user fees."