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Pilots rally against ATC privatization at AirVenturePilots rally against ATC privatization at AirVenture

Editor's note: This article was updated July 26 to clarify information about flight in Canada's privatized air traffic control system.

EAA AirVenture—one of the most-loved, most-renowned aviation events in the world that showcases all segments of the industry—would likely be shut down under air traffic control privatization being advanced in H.R. 2997, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO Jack Pelton told hundreds of pilots gathered at the show July 24 for a rally against ATC privatization.

“This would be the most devastating thing that could happen to AirVenture,” Pelton said.

Pelton was joined by AOPA President Mark Baker, National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen, and General Aviation Manufacturers Association President Pete Bunce, who united in speaking out against ATC privatization and debunking myths that are being perpetuated by the airlines.

GA will be in the “fight for our lives for the next four or five or six months,” Baker said. “Thanks to all of you in the room, they do listen to us.” Nearly 15,000 aviators now flying under BasicMed are proof of the influence pilots have on Capitol Hill.

All the association leaders debunked the many myths the airlines and some in Congress are spreading around Capitol Hill and to the public.

Pelton said that we need only look at ATC systems in Canada and Europe to see how privatization has practically killed GA. In Canada, notams may be issued periodically advising VFR traffic of delays, reroutes, or declined clearance requests around the country's busiest airports like Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg during peak operations.

Baker noted that the airlines are claiming that the ATC system is using antiquated World War II radar, but he said that while radar was invented in World War II, “radar isn’t something we want to give up.” Modern technologies like GPS are being used by ATC to make air transportation more efficient, he said.

Another myth is that airline delays are attributable to antiquated ATC systems and practices such as controllers passing paper strips of flight information back and forth. In reality, 70 percent of delays are caused by the high concentration of flights in the Northeast (airline scheduling) combined with a lack of runways and weather delays. ATC can’t control either of those variables.

Members of Congress are claiming that GA “got everything they wanted” by leaving user fees out of the privatization proposal, but that’s far from the truth, the CEOs said. “I’ve never been asked anything,” Baker said, explaining that none of the four heads of the GA associations at the rally had been contacted for input on the legislation. Bolen went even further, saying that GA was purposely ignored.

Bolen said that the major airlines have tried to seize control of the ATC system for more than two decades. The airlines want to have “economic power, economic control, economic domination,” he said. “Twenty-five years later, that’s still true, and that’s embodied in this bill, H.R. 2997.”

“Giving a monopoly to an airline cartel” would not be a wise move, Bolen reiterated. He elaborated with a hypothetical scenario that could be possible under ATC privatization. The private monopoly created to run a privatized ATC system could shut down New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport during bad weather to prevent delays at Newark, and GA’s only recourse would be to hire a lawyer. This private system would not have congressional oversight, meaning that the public would have no voice in how it is operated.

“We’re enjoying what other generations have handed down to us,” Bolen said, adding that pilots needed to unite to protect the system for future generations.

Each of the associations has information about ATC privatization and ways to contact members of Congress at their booths at EAA AirVenture. In addition, pilots can call 855/383-7330 or visit AOPA’s call to action page to reach out to their member.

“We want to win this every day, every week,” Baker said, “for the rest of the year.”

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Advocacy, EAA AirVenture, ATC

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