Our elected representatives in Congress wisely created a national air transportation system, as they did with highways for cars and trucks. The Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system is designed to serve the airlines. Most small planes use few, if any, of these services, usually flying in a see-and-be-seen fashion.
Remarkably, 75% of all U.S. airline passengers travel through just 30 airports. However, general aviation gets people to more than 5,400 public-use airports. The small airport in a local community today is often a key link to non-airline air transportation and other essential services. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) represents more than 400,000 members who own and pilot these personal and business-use airplanes.
Passengers on the airlines pay for operation of this national system through fees and taxes assessed by federal, state, and local governments. The airlines pay a modest federal fuel tax of four cents a gallon. Conversely, general aviation flights fund their use of the system through a fuel tax five times what the airlines pay. That makes sense, as there are often no passengers to tax on a typical small aircraft flight.
Proponents who support replacing the fuel tax with user fees and privatizing the air traffic control system often claim greater efficiency and cost benefits. One only need look at the privatized systems in Canada, the United Kingdom, or Germany where costs have risen and services have declined. The United States is geographically slightly smaller than Europe, but we have twice the annual air traffic (15.9 million flights versus 7.9 million in the EU). On-time rates are 77% compared to Europe's 73%. There are 21 control centers in the U.S. compared to 41 in the EU, and we pay proportionately fewer air traffic controllers (17,000) to manage twice the traffic at comparable cost.
There can be only one air traffic control system. It is and must be a monopoly, eliminating the competitive forces that drive costs down. Currently it's government-run. User-fee proponents see privatization as a way to save money. As an airline passenger, do you want the control and safety of your flight to be in the hands of the "lowest bidder"?