AOPA Backs Anti-Privatization Forces

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As enormous political pressure bears down on a handful of senators holding the key to the future of the FAA reauthorization bill, forces opposing the bill's handling of air traffic control privatization welcomed a powerful ally. AOPA President Phil Boyer said in a statement Friday that while the 400,000-strong organization supports many of the provisions in the $60 billion bill, he's afraid that the current language (or lack of it) opens the door to a Canadian- and British-style user-pay system. "... Future administrators or administrations have all the authority they need to turn the keys over to a NavCanada or NATS-type company," Boyer said. His comments came after the House of Representatives, in a 211-207 vote , endorsed the revised reauthorization bill, which was stripped of all language pertaining to air traffic control privatization. The previous incarnation of the bill permitted privatization of up to 69 mostly VFR towers, while guaranteeing the balance of the system stayed in government hands. AOPA stood alone among the mainstream alphabet groups in opposing the bill. Last Wednesday, AOPA stayed away from a Capitol Hill news conference at which six groups, including EAA, showed up to support passage of the legislation. The next day, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey spoke at the opening day of AOPA Expo, the group's annual convention, and chided her hosts for skipping the news conference. "I'm told that AOPA would usually be front and center on issues like this," she said. "That's why we were more than a little surprised that AOPA wasn't there." Blakey told about 1,200 delegates she's opposed to a fee-for-service system and has no plans to privatize ATC. Most of the other groups have issued statements saying there is too much good in the bill to have it held up by what they consider to be a relatively insignificant issue. "We feel this is one of the most general aviation-friendly FAA reauthorization bills to come along in recent memory and we want the bill to move forward," said EAA spokesman Doug Macnair.