July 10, 2015

During a government-sponsored symposium on aviation policy held in Washington, DC, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen reminded industry stakeholders that the business aviation community has significant concerns about proposals recently discussed for creating a privatized Air Traffic Control (ATC) system funded by user fees.

Participating in a July 7 panel discussion hosted by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies, Bolen drove home many of the same points he has made about the concept of a privatized ATC system funded by user fees in a host of venues, including in mid-May testimony he provided before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Read Bolen’s May 19 Commerce Committee testimony in its entirety.

“The U.S. has the largest, safest, most diverse, complex and efficient system in the world,” noted Bolen at the TRB panel forum. Because the future of U.S. general aviation (GA) hinges on the ability of the current ATC system to accommodate all users as traffic grows, “the challenge is that what’s good enough today will not be good enough tomorrow. We need to have a system that preserves the diversity of our airspace.

“The U.S. airspace is public and should be operated to its benefit,” continued Bolen, who cautioned that one proposal to privatize the system would give taxing power to “self-interested industry stakeholders who may not act in the public interest.”

Given the vital impact that general aviation has on the economic livelihood of rural communities, as well as the national economy, Bolen warned that recasting the ATC system without carefully examining all the potential impacts would be ill advised. “We want to do something and do it right; not do something just for the sake of doing something.”

Recently, NBAA issued a “Call to Action” asking its Members and industry stakeholders to let elected officials know they are against plans to create a privatized ATC system funded by user fees. On June 15, U.S. Representative Bill Shuster (R-9-PA), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee announced plans to introduce a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which would do just that.

Read more about NBAA’s Call to Action.

Bolen concluded his symposium comments by recommending that general aviation be allowed to continue to pay its share of ATC costs through the current, proven method: fuel taxes. Bolen noted that the mechanism always has been, and remains “an efficient and effective way for us in the general aviation community to contribute to the system.”

Changing the financing method for general aviation from a gas tax to a user fee would be damaging to general aviation, said Bolen, who pointed to the negative consequences for GA in several countries that have transitioned to privatized ATC systems funded by user fees.

Despite polarizing views on ATC system funding that continue to cause tension within the aviation industry, Bolen said aviation system modernization remains a national priority.

The aviation industry is united in its desire to see NextGen fully implemented, said Bolen. “The challenge is making it a reality,” he added. “Progress has been made because of good dialogue within the community.”