March 3, 2017

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen reminded a March 2 gathering of Washington, DC aviation policy leaders of the value general aviation (GA) provides to the nation’s economy and transportation system, and of the industry’s continuing commitment to the development of a NextGen aviation system.

Bolen offered his comments in an address before an annual “Aviation Summit” hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This year’s event, the chamber’s 16th, focused on “technology, innovation and the future of aviation.”

With that three-fold focus in mind, Bolen took the opportunity to highlight the GA community’s continuing investment in technologies that have enhanced the safety and efficiency of flight. “General aviation has been around since the Wright Brothers’ first flight, and since then, the industry has been a leader in aviation technology,” he said, noting that composite technologies, GPS systems and aircraft winglets all had their origins in GA-sector development.

“We have a long history with innovation and technology, and we play an essential role in communities everywhere,” Bolen added, reminding the audience that GA supports more than 1 million jobs, promotes economic development in small towns and rural areas, helps companies be productive and efficient and is key in providing lift to humanitarian flights.

That said, Bolen warned that the benefits GA has provided through technology advancements and access to communities “could be jeopardized if the industry becomes sidetracked by an idea that’s been around a long time: turning our nation’s air traffic control system over to some combination of special interests.”

Specifically, Bolen was referring to a concept, long pushed by some airlines, for replacing congressional oversight of the nation’s ATC network with a private entity, governed by an airline-centric board, and funded by new user fees. The idea has been promoted as part of the continuing congressional debate over reauthorization of FAA funding and programs, and proponents have often conflated it with the need to speed the progress of NextGen initiatives.

“When it comes to modernization, everyone agrees – we want to go farther, we want to go faster,” Bolen said. “But ATC privatization is not the answer. The air traffic system is a monopoly, and always will be. The question is: who will control that monopoly? The public airspace belongs to the public, and the public’s representatives ought to have a role in making sure everyone has access to airports and airspace. We don’t think the aviation system ought to be managed by a board of special interests.”

Bolen added that while NBAA opposes the notion of ATC privatization, the association agrees with the rest of industry on a host of other priorities for aviation-system modernization, and that stakeholder collaboration offers the surest way to ensure the nation’s future aviation system serves the interests of all Americans.

Speaking earlier in the day before the National Association of State Aviation Officials’ annual legislative conference in Washington, Bolen called the proposal to privatize the ATC system a “fundamentally flawed idea,” and said the concept is being fought “at a grassroots level.”