A House GOP plan to reform the Federal Aviation Administration and privatize America's air traffic controllers will end up slashing airport capacity, boost flight delays and nearly double the fees which means higher ticket prices, according to the chief of Delta Air Lines.
In testimony submitted to the House committee considering the legislation today, CEO Richard H. Anderson also raised the possibility that putting air traffic controllers in a private corporation run like a union raises the possibility of controller strikes that could shut down airports because presidents wouldn't be their boss.
"This bill feels like an experiment. Our nation's air traffic control system is too important—to public safety, economic growth, and national security—and working too well for such an experiment to be prudent," he said in the written testimony provided in advance to Secrets.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is considering the reforms to air traffic control and the proposal by Chairman Bill Shuster to privatize the service as set in the pending Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act.
The committee has proposed the reforms because it believes privatizing the air traffic controllers, like is done in Europe, will save money and raise efficiency. In his hearing opening statement, Shuster said: "This isn't a new idea. The Clinton and Bush administrations proposed it, and since then, an independent ATC provider has become the global standard. More than 50 other countries have successfully done this, with benefits across the board in safety, modernized systems, efficiency, service, and costs.
"We will see more effective use of the airspace, more direct routes, increased capacity, shorter flight times, reduced delays and cancellations, and reduced pollution and noise. With the operational efficiencies, I believe we can save billions of dollars."
But a growing group are raising red flags of opposition, believing it will do the opposite.
Even America's most celebrated living pilot, Chuck Yeager, is urging Americans to oppose the change. On his Facebook page, he wrote, "We do NOT want to privatize Air Traffic Control," and he steered his 200,000 fans to a letter from the National Business Aviation Association that warned of higher flying fees if the reform takes place.
But it has the support of the controllers. "After extremely careful review, consideration, and deliberation, we have reached a decision: NATCA supports this bill," the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said.
Anderson raised several worrying issues about privatizing controllers and said that lawmakers didn't understand how efficient and helpful they already are, especially compared to those in the European Union.
One big issue, he said, would be slashing capacity at airports to weak European levels. Big, four-runway airports in Europe, for example, average 61 flights an hour compared to 80 for similar U.S. airports. "Three- and four-runway airports in the United States can handle about a third more flights per hour than those in Europe
He also raised the possibility of controller strikes because they would be in a private entity not governed by the president. In 1981, former President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 unionized air traffic controllers for strike, a bold decision that jump-started his presidency.
A committee spokesman said that the ban on strikes would stay in place.
And Anderson noted that similar European systems where air traffic control is privatized charge more in fees. "The FAA cost per flight hour, at $450, is below the international average of $498 reported by the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation. It is also lower than key members of the EU, including Germany ($650 per flight hour), the U.K. ($774 per flight hour), and Spain ($801 per flight hour)," said Anderson's testimony.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com.