ATC Privatization: Point/Counterpoint

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Canada Just Isn't the Same as the U.S.

by Mark Baker

When Congress returns from summer recess in early September, they will consider a vote on H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act, which would remove air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and turn it over to the airlines. Supporters of the bill often point to our neighbors to the north as a shining example of how ATC privatization is successful, and some in Canada, including our counterpart, are content with what they have. But with operations that are one-tenth the scale and complexity of the U.S.’s airspace system, comparing ourselves to Canada is a moot point.

Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., an outspoken critic of ATC privatization, said comparing American and Canadian air traffic is like “comparing an apple to a horseshoe; you can’t compare the two.” The congressman makes a valid point since Nav Canada deals with air traffic roughly equivalent to that of Houston and Dallas combined, far from the nearly 44,000 daily flights the United States ATC system handles.

The U.S. national airspace system works well and is the envy of the world. Why would we want to jeopardize that? Broken promises, staff shortages, a lack of access and a decline in general aviation is what the U.S. airspace system faces if we mirror our Canadian counterparts.

At Missouri’s annual Tarkio Fly-in, pilots spoke out against the negative consequences of a privatized ATC system. Ron Renz, a test pilot, aeronautical engineer and user of both systems, was unimpressed with what privatization has done in Canada. Renz said GA fees in Canada have gone up while traffic has gone down and virtually every small airport is suffering. He witnessed the decline of GA, saying, “Privatization has killed GA in Canada.”

Most countries that switched to a privatized system did not receive the intended benefits. According to a 2016 Delta Air Lines study, Canadian fliers faced a 59-percent increase in ATC fees on airline tickets and in the U.K., passengers saw a 30-percent jump following privatization. Additionally, the Delta study also found that since 1998, Canadian ATC has seen their revenue go up by around 21 percent while flight volume actually decreased by 16 percent. The U.S. Government Accountability Office also found that following privatization, many Canadian general aviation pilots in rural areas faced an increase in local fees because privatization there seemed like such a good idea that the nation privatized its airports too.

Following privatization, Canadian ATC has experienced staffing shortages that continue to affect access. In Canada, NOTAMs are issued periodically advising VFR traffic of delays, reroutes or declined clearance requests around the country’s busiest airports such as Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg during peak operations. 

Temporary VFR bans aren’t that uncommon with the Nav Canada system. Just recently, the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association spoke out about a ban on VFR flights at Vancouver International Airport restricting VFR arrivals, other than seaplanes and helicopters.  “The Vancouver NOTAM is a special concern because its long continuous duration is unprecedented,” said COPA President and CEO Bernard Gervais. “COPA has been in contact with Nav Canada about the NOTAM and we’ve been assured that measures are being taken to correct the situation.”

Barry Powers, a pilot who frequently flies up North, said privatization has hurt GA in Canada because of the associated costs. “Now, they want to charge you for everything, they send a bill and it discourages people.” When discussing privatization in the United States, Powers said, “That would be a terrible idea. It [ATC] works well here.”

Handing over control of the skies to the airlines with unchecked power would be disastrous. Nearly every airline has filed for bankruptcy, and these are the ones that charge billions each year just so you can bring your luggage, the ones that want to reduce seat sizes even further, the ones that have an excruciatingly dismal customer service record, and the ones that can’t even handle computer glitches. How are they supposed to handle our entire airspace system and national security?

In addition to the broken promises, lack of access and decline of GA traffic, switching to an airline-dominated privatized system would add almost $100 billion dollars to the deficit, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently announced. That money is better spent on updating our system with newer technology. We have a system that works for all users today, as proven by our safety record, and there’s no need to mimic Canada’s ATC model.

Mark Baker is president and CEO of the U.S.-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. 

We Wouldn’t Go Back to Government ATC in Canada

by Bernard Gervais

So what’s it like to fly in a privatized Air Navigation Services (ANS) system?  Not that bad actually.  Probably just cheaper and simpler. ANS (or ATC) has been privatized in Canada for the last 20 years. I was not around and not even a pilot back then when it happened, but I quickly caught up on the history, from looking at our old clippings and reading through historical documents. At first COPA was against privatization, not knowing what the future held for our members and their GA aircraft. Understandably, because the ANS Act said, “Nav Canada’s charges in respect to recreational and private aircraft must not be unreasonable or undue.” That’s not the most reassuring piece of legislation you can find during a transition period. That left the door open to any type of speculation and a little apprehension amongst the aviation community.

Now, we know. Close to 30 percent of our members don’t even pay a single penny because their aircraft weigh less than 1360 lbs. The vast majority pay $66 per year and the heavier birds (more than 3000 kg or 6600 lbs.) pay a little more. All of this has continuously come down over the years. It’s also not costing the taxpayers anything, based on the user-pay model.

We have also noticed in the long run that there has not been any degradation of services for GA. The governance model in place is comprised of a board with four out of 15 positions being airlines-appointed.  There is also 20-member Advisory Committee reporting to the board. It represents a broad spectrum of organizations with an interest in the ANS, half of which are GA associations. I sit on that committee.

What’s the typical use of the system? Whether VFR or IFR, you call up the 1-800 number, get a detailed weather briefing and then decide about filing your flight plan with the person now or later or it can be done electronically through any software like ForeFlight or Flight Plan. That’s it. Take off and your flight plan gets activated by ATC or at the time you said you would take off. Land and your plan gets closed by ATC. No need to call FSS. You get a bill once a year. Doesn’t cost anything to taxpayers.

There are certainly some things affecting GA, specifically VFR and IFR training flights. The system is not perfect. With a lot of retirement from the baby-boomer crowd, there are staffing issues around the five or six biggest airports in the country on sunny weekends or peak vacation periods, where service can temporarily be denied. These issues would be like trying to get into JFK or Atlanta VFR with your C-172 on a beautiful Saturday morning, or trying to shoot an approach at O’Hare during peak inbound traffic. There may be some delays or you may get turned away. Still, there is no reason why this should happen and the situation is being closely watched by the Advisory Committee and Nav Canada’s board.

So things are working out pretty good. Would anyone go back to a government-run system? No. Not everything is perfect, but our members all like the services and the system. It is one of the safest in the world, the governance model is just and fair, the fees are low (free for many) and we get great service, without costing taxpayers anything. Nav Canada has also been able to be innovative and is at the forefront of technology, as the major shareholder of Aireon (space-based ADS-B). With anticipated profits, is free ANS for all in Canada in the future? Perhaps.

Bernard Gervais is president of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.

Comments (34)

So I read and re-read the points made on both sides and I fail to see the advantage to privatization of ATC in the U.S. In a smaller overall (and largely rural) ATC environment like in Canada ... it may make sense. But here in the U.S., the system is far more complex -- as many have said -- and it needs more Government oversight ... as much as it pains me to say that. Just what are we trying to fix that can't be fixed in other less draconian ways? As a minimum, lets slow down and breathe a bit before we throw the baby out with the bath water and kill it.

It seems to me that the main problem in search of a solution here is a predictable funding stream for the FAA. The nonsense of year-by-year reauthorizations subject to the whims of political hacks -- who aren't doing their jobs and usually 'gum up' the works -- is the predominant issue. Funding predictability could easily be solved by using five year plans subject to bi-annual re-visits. Many positions within Government are made on that sort of premise ... why not extend it to the FAA/ATC funding streams? Before we get to the point of no return, we had better make damned sure that we know what we're doing. Sadly, past performance shows that we don't.

In much the same way as the breakup of "Ma Bell" or the de-regulation of the airline industry proved, Government had the best of intentions only to find that there were unintended consequences when it stuck its finger into the proverbial "pie." ADS-B would be another. The 2020 Mandate is coming and I'm reading that very few airliners have equipped. Once more and more GA airplanes equip, I 'sniff' a rat ... the mythical "they" will know exactly who is flying and where and ... next thing ya know ... user fees will start entering the jargon of the magical "board."

No thanks! Don't mess up what's mostly working just because a few Congress people "think" they know what's best for aviation in the U.S. This is a power and financial "grab" ... and little more.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 28, 2017 3:11 AM    Report this comment

Baker would do all of us a favor by telling the truth for just once in his life. The actual Bill under consideration does NOT "turn ATC over to the airlines." Not even close.

Larry shares simple truths with us:
1. "...the main problem in search of a solution here is a predictable funding stream for the FAA"
Yup.
2. "Funding predictability could easily be solved by using five year plans subject to bi-annual re-visits."
Yup. And if pigs had wings, we could worry about something other than drones.

I don't know how separating ATC from the FAA (it's that - not "privatization") would work out. I'm not advocating it. But neither am I condemning the actual proposal that's under consideration. I readily condemn demagoguery that's fueled by speculation and outright lies. Like Baker's.

The entire FAA (not just ATC) needs a reliable source of funding. Duh. Congress apparently is incapable of providing that. Double-duh. And I have absolutely NO faith that the FAA has the will or the talent to address the coming traffic separation challenges. Triple-duh.

AOPA et al: Don't tell me what won't work - tell me what WILL. And please don't insult our collective intelligence by telling us that "everything is just fine." It's not, and it's gonna get worse. Soon.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 28, 2017 8:01 AM    Report this comment

"The actual Bill under consideration does NOT "turn ATC over to the airlines." Not even close."

No matter how you look at it, the airlines' interests *are* more heavily represented than GA. That alone is a big enough problem.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 28, 2017 9:12 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Gervais claims, "(the Canadian ANS system)...is one of the safest in the world, the governance model is just and fair, the fees are low (free for many) and we get great service..." which all may be very true. However, he also states, "...30 percent of our members don't even pay a single penny because their aircraft weigh less than 1360 lbs. The vast majority pay $66 per year and the heavier birds (more than 3000 kg or 6600 lbs.) pay a little more...".

This would imply that 30 percent of the Canadian members fly the equivalent of an overweight Light Sport Aircraft. While LSAs are fun and can be great trainers, they are not family fliers or cross-country planes. And they are certainly not serious IFR aircraft. For one that may desire to fly with family or on business, personal or business, a cabin-class single or light-twin comes in tipping the scale at what he describes as "heaver birds". I never thought of a 310 as heavy iron.

One could delve between the lines and say that the Canadians have taken to flying what they can afford, not what they desire. Sounds similar to what goes on across the pond. In the USA, we want to fly affordably but for transportation, not just for fun. That is flying capable airplanes that have carrying capacity, range, and weather capabilities. And that is challenging given fuel costs, insurance, parts, and the like.

Perhaps when embracing a European philosophy on private flying, one can agree with Mr.Gervais. Unfortunately here, where we like to fly from sea to shining sea, that is not a model that is desired whether it works for them or not. In this country, we have an efficient safe system that may not be perfect but works very well without relegating the private flyer to taking weekend joy-rides around the patch.

I encourage my fellow pilots to embrace our ATC system and work to make it better. In my 45 years as a pilot, I have seen many changes in response to may challenges and most are improvements overall. While the grass may appear greener on the other side of the fence but be very leery. Crabgrass and manure make an attractive sight.

Posted by: Charles Wilcox | August 28, 2017 9:26 AM    Report this comment

"This would imply that 30 percent of the Canadian members fly the equivalent of an overweight Light Sport Aircraft. "

I noticed that as well.


"It's also not costing the taxpayers anything, based on the user-pay model."
"You get a bill once a year. Doesn't cost anything to taxpayers."

Proponents of ATC privatization always seem to beat the drum "it won't cost the taxpayers anything". To me, that's just a way of saying "if I don't use it, I don't want to pay for it - someone else's problem". And in the context of ATC services, "I don't use it" usually means airline passengers thinking *they* aren't making use of ATC, so why should they pay for some rich guy to fly his private plane around. Of course, the reality is that they are using ATC services, and they are paying for it. The airlines certainly aren't paying for it out of the kindness of their hearts - it just gets passed on to the passenger as another service fee.

That's the problem with making public infrastructure/services use-based: it seems like a way to reduce costs, until you need those services. And now it costs more than it did before. So my question is, have the Canadian's taxes gone down as a result of ATC privatization? Or has that money been shifted to something else that benefits the citizens more? And likewise, will *our* taxes go down as a result of ATC privatization, or be shifted to something better (say, universal healthcare)? If not, then it's just a different name for a tax increase.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 28, 2017 9:47 AM    Report this comment

For me the issue isn't government run vs. privately run, it's all about who is in control and what they represent. I don't believe government runs anything better than private industry, i just don't want to hand a monopoly on our aerospace system over to the airlines. Done right privatization could help encourage new safety systems instead of hinder them like the FAA does and simultaneously bring costs down.

Posted by: Thomas Wiley | August 28, 2017 11:07 AM    Report this comment

For those who missed it...
Browse to avweb.com/avwebflash/news/Nav-Canada-To-Refund-60-Million-To-Users-229556-1.html

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 28, 2017 11:12 AM    Report this comment

Larry Stencel nailed it--"In a smaller overall (and largely rural) ATC environment like in Canada ... it may make sense." As does Charles Wilcox--"One could delve between the lines and say that the Canadians have taken to flying what they can afford, not what they desire. Sounds similar to what goes on across the pond. "

I fly to Canada often--in a variety of airplanes (from a Lake Amphibian to a King Air). I've also flown by GA airplane to 78 countries around the world, and every time I return, I vow "Don't let this happen HERE!" Some BIG differences between U.S. and Canadian ATC--90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border--and for the most part, that's their ATC. Get more than 200 miles from the border, and ATC literally becomes non-existent. I regularly fly to Thompson, Man.--500 miles north of the border. Even at FL 260 in the King Air, once about 140 miles out of Winnipeg, I'm told "Radar contact lost, contact Thompson Radio 100 n.m. out of Thompson." Effectively, there IS no ATC--yet I'm charged $86 each way for "ATC services."

At lower altitudes in the Baron, there is no radar available at all--pilots self-control via CTAF for all altitudes below 18,000'--"Commuter XXXXXX departing God's Lake for Winnipeg, climbing to 8,000"--they then check in when within communications distance of Center. That's their version of IFR operations--the "Big Sky Theory"--but since they are "IFR", they get charged anyway.

Canadian Air Traffic Controllers make about 55% of what U.S. controllers make--do you suppose our guys would work for that? No wonder their costs are less! Their volume of traffic is so low that I've had a single controller take me all the way from west of Winnipeg to northern Alberta. Name anyplace in the U.S. where that could happen.

"One in, one out". Smaller airport IFR operations are a throwback to the early 1960s in the U.S. due to lack of radar coverage. I often use smaller airports there, but since there is no radar coverage, operations are limited to "one in, one out"--if an aircraft has been cleared by ATC for an approach from 40 miles out, that airspace is locked down for other arrivals or departures. I've sat with engines running for up to half an hour at places like Kenora, Ont. (served by FSS) waiting to depart, because there were aircraft on the approach. Upon request, if the airport is VFR, simply request a VFR departure and pick up your clearance airborne when "clear of the zone."

"The fees will come down for fuel"--and other fairy tales. When ATC was "Privatized"--fuel taxes DID go down, but the cost of fuel quickly regained parity with the U.S. In effect, costs went up.

next

Posted by: jim hanson | August 28, 2017 11:16 AM    Report this comment

"The hassle factor". You'll get billed by Canadian ATC about 2 months AFTER the flight--payable in Canadian dollars. That means you have to call Nav Canada--wait on the phone (sometimes they are so busy that you are asked to leave a message for a return call). After waiting 15 or 20 minutes, you are allowed to pay by credit card. As a final affront, when you get your bill, you are charged an "international service fee by your credit card company. But you're not done YET! You'll be charged an "airport landing fee" by the airport--again, two months later, and separate from the ATC fee--call with your credit card again. You'll be charged an "international waste fee" as well (even though there was no waste on the airplane. And, of course, the ramp fees by the FBOs. Since all of these fees aren't charged for a couple of months later, it's hard to charge back the fees to your charter customers, Part 91 passengers, or internal departments. I guess it's better than other parts of the world, in Europe and South America, we received bills 6 months later!

Baker is right when he maintains that implementation of the system used by the rest of the world will result in our GA being like the rest of the world. You can see the effect on FBOs on both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border--cross-border traffic has declined precipitously since the "Great Leap Forward" of Canadian privatization was inflicted on pilots on both sides of the border.

Posted by: jim hanson | August 28, 2017 11:17 AM    Report this comment

One guy advocates against an "unknown" while a different guy advocates for a "known".

Which has the better data upon which to form an opinion?

Is the sky really falling?

Posted by: Jeff Land | August 28, 2017 2:26 PM    Report this comment

Separating ATC services from the FAA could address some of the funding continuity problems that have plagued the Agency. So could reducing controller compensation (which accounts for 70% of current ATC outlays) to the relative levels seen in other advanced nations. I agree with other commenters that the provisions in HR 2997 virtually guarantee airline and union control of the new ATC Corporation board of directore in perpetuity. Please do not take my word. Read the text of Title II of the bill itself. It is easy to see why NATCA endorsed privatization. Title II guarantees controllers the right to retain their current compensation and retirement benefits - a House Transportation Committee staff person confirmed this to me.

How do the airlines benefit from privatization? That is the question I was asked to look into three months ago. Among other things, the airline industry has been surprisingly hostile to FAA's modernization programs over the past decade. This was not a conspiracy to harm the Agency. It was a reflection the airlines' inability, or unwillingness, to reconcile their business model with the requirements of the future NEXTGEN ATC system. Separation of ATC services has emerged as the most effective way to delay the implementation of NEXTGEN - for the airlines if not for you and me.

A study of the interaction between the airlines, their lobbyists, the House Transportation Committee and the FAA was written. I will be happy to make a copy available if Avweb's editorial policies allow this.

Posted by: kim hunter | August 28, 2017 2:34 PM    Report this comment

"A study of the interaction between the airlines, their lobbyists, the House Transportation Committee and the FAA was written. I will be happy to make a copy available if Avweb's editorial policies allow this."

Contact me about this, Kim.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 28, 2017 4:28 PM    Report this comment

In short, I agree with Larry, Jim and about AOPA with YARS. Will we keep "privatization" from happening? I don't think so. GA will take a hit!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 28, 2017 5:37 PM    Report this comment

Good read: Separating Fact from Fiction on Air Traffic Control Reform | U.S. House of Representatives

Go to: transportation.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=401090

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 28, 2017 6:03 PM    Report this comment

Go to navcanada.ca and open the PDF of current charges. The document is 58 pages and details all charges to use the system. After reading the list of charges, I have no desire to move beyond my LSA.

Posted by: jay Manor | August 28, 2017 6:45 PM    Report this comment

As a Canadian C172 driver who flys both VFR and IFR, I would have to say our system works pretty well. At the same time, I fly a lot in the US and have nothing but good things to say about the US airspace system and its controllers.

I think a couple of key points need to be made:

1. The Canadian system is privatized but not-for-profit. This is an important distinction. It's not unlike a privately owned utility company in the US where rates are based on an approved rate of return. It's not wide open free enterprise where pricing is based on what the market will bear.

2. If I lived in the US, I would be repeatedly making the point, to all who would listen, that GA is the bedrock of aviation, and yes, for the airlines as well. All the guys driving big airplanes, all of them, started out flying little airplanes. Ya gotta have both.

Posted by: Peter Millard | August 28, 2017 7:50 PM    Report this comment

It's not particularly encouraging when the pro- camp starts off by saying it's "not that bad."

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | August 29, 2017 12:35 PM    Report this comment

Linked In has a good counter point to the Pro side of this, this website will not allow me to post the link Though

Posted by: William Higdon | August 29, 2017 5:28 PM    Report this comment

You can post it. Strip of the http.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 29, 2017 7:55 PM    Report this comment

This raises some good points for not doing it. To read it you will probably have to register with the website. But I feel it raises a number of goo points against Privatization.

linkedin.com/pulse/privatize-air-traffic-control-save-faa-first-let-144-million-cronen?trk=eml-email_feed_ecosystem_digest_01-recommended_articles-14-Unknown&midToken=AQFYTk-wrPMGbg&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=3ibO6q_UfquDU1

Bill Higdon

Posted by: William Higdon | August 29, 2017 9:18 PM    Report this comment

These are the best (i.e. most intelligent) comments I've ever read on avweb. Yes, I'm shocked... Everyone gets a Popsicle...

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | August 30, 2017 7:49 AM    Report this comment

I am amazed that 30% of the Canadian members fly aircraft under 1360 lbs. Even an old Cessna 150 has is a 1500 lb. aircraft. That tells me that a lot of their members don't use the system. I also know that the percentage of Canadian pilots that have IFR rating is much lower than it is for US pilots. This again show that they don't really use the system like we do in the US.

I suspect that COPA doesn't want to sour their relationship with NAV Canada, and that's the real reason they don't want to be on record as opposing privatization. I do know that a lot flight school in Canada fly over the border and shoot approaches at US airport (and never land so, they don't have to clear customs). This is because of the costs the Canadian system puts on them.

Also, anyone that thinks that private industry always is better than government run programs is just uninformed. Private industry can be more efficient because it is profit driven. Some things should NEVER be profit driven. Namely any thing that involves regulatory enforcement, or universal access. Law enforcement, the military, traffic management, tax collection, etc. are all intrinsically government responsibilities. ATC should not be a profit driven activity.

Posted by: Unknown | August 30, 2017 11:19 AM    Report this comment

The case for ATC reform

By Bill Shuster represents Pennsylvania's 9th Congressional District and is Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Conclusion

Separation of ATC from the aviation regulator is not a new idea. It has been discussed in the United States for over four decades. In the meantime, nations around the world have successfully pursued this reform and achieved envi- able results that have been recognized by the ICAO. Among the countries that have done so, there has been
no desire to revert to a government-operated ATC system according to an FAA-initiated study. Unless we take this opportunity to reform our own system, the United States will continue its descent toward an increasingly expensive but mediocre ATC system. Failing to change our course will inevitably cost us our hard-earned global leadership in avi- ation. My hope is that all stakeholders will put aside their differences, come to the table, and take action for the future of our entire aviation system and the good of our country, before more decades slip by and our leadership vanishes. "

Really?


Read it all.

transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/summer2017_shuster_op-ed_air_and_space_lawyer.pdf

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 30, 2017 11:59 AM    Report this comment

Dear "Unknown:"
There is NOTHING in the ATC proposal that authorizes the entity to make "a profit."
We're gonna need more room to pile up all of these dead straw men...

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 30, 2017 12:00 PM    Report this comment

"There is NOTHING in the ATC proposal that authorizes the entity to make "a profit.""

I think his (her?) point was that privatization only drives down costs when there is a profit motive, and without that profit motive, you won't get lowered costs.

But really, privatization of ATC is not about lowering costs at all. It's entirely about shifting a nationwide infrastructure from tax-based funding to user-based funding. Such shifts inevitably affect lower-income people more negatively than higher-income people because the total cost is spread across fewer people, which means the users have to pay a larger amount. And it's those who don't need help that are more easily to absorb such increases (which often just account as a rounding error to them).

I haven't heard of anything that will translate to lower costs for me. Privatization is not this magical faster-better-cheaper tool that a lot of people like to make it out to be. Especially if there's no market competition.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 30, 2017 1:56 PM    Report this comment

Pax will pay for ATC.
GA will pay for ATC.
The airlines won't pay for ATC.

Finito la comedia!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 30, 2017 2:02 PM    Report this comment

Tom Yarsley...please stop posting.

(Very much suspecting you work for an airline or a union)

Posted by: Tracy Barnett | August 30, 2017 2:12 PM    Report this comment

I am not convinced that all Canadian pilots are happy with their ATC system. The "official" COPA position says everyone is happy. However, not all the pilots sing the same tune. The system works okay near the border and in the more heavily populated eastern areas. Out west and farther north, coverage gets spotty and control is often unavailable or difficult to access. With regard to cost, yes, they got a refund this year, but still have to apply to get it. Plus, they often pay for services that are either unavailable or denied due to workload. The public thinks they don't pay for it, but it is just part of their ticket price every time they board an airliner. Hidden taxes are easy to manipulate. Keep our system the way it is and address the funding issue separately.

Of course Bill Schuster is pro privatization. He has been pushing it for years. Rather than taking the easy way out, maybe he should work to address the funding issue in a rational manner that stabilizes the FAA and allows better planning. Privatizing ATC just takes the spotlight off of a dysfunctional congress that desperately needs to get its house in order.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 30, 2017 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Who's gonna pay? Principally the flying public (pax) then GA will be affected. Get the public on the GA side. The flying public's outcry about ATC privatization, and hidden or additional pax fees, would be more powerful than the unified objections, screams, coming from half a million pilots roaring at the same time.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 30, 2017 4:34 PM    Report this comment

Tracy:
You must be new here. I own an independent consulting engineering firm. Our clients do not include airlines or unions; never have.
Free advice: stop suspecting; start researching.
-Warm regards,
YARS

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 30, 2017 8:33 PM    Report this comment

I'll hop on my soapbox again, and ask:

What's wrong with the fuel tax?

It's a fundraising method that's transparent to the user, incurs no major disincentive to using the system, captures revenue from don't even use the system, and scales fairly neatly with the impact a given aircraft has on the ATC system.

If it's not raising enough money, change the rate. If the money isn't reaching the FAA and ATC, browbeat Congress and get them to stop raiding the piggybank (yeah, I know, good luck with that).

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | August 31, 2017 6:08 AM    Report this comment

Robert,
You begin to see the root of the problem. The gasoline tax is an ideal use tax; if you use the system, you pay for it by purchasing gasoline (and other items like tires, etc.). If not, you don't. Unfortunately the taxes collected do not cover all the FAA's operating costs so Congress must allocate the rest. And, the funding problem goes much deeper and is a direct result of a dysfunctional Congress that cannot get its act together. Bill Schuster is trying to take the easy way out and set ATC up with a separate funding system rather than trying to fix the root problem. But, in his defense, he needs a lot of help from his fellow inmates to make the needed changes and that is not likely to (ever) happen.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 31, 2017 12:03 PM    Report this comment

John:
I agree - it's the dysfunctional Congress that causes the unreliable funding; the taxes are just fine (although ultimately the fuel tax will have to be adapted for coal-fired aircraft). The proposed solution is ONE effort to do an end-run around the dysfunction. Those who think that we can snap our fingers, and get Congress to function, haven't been paying attention. Practical teleportation is about as likely.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 31, 2017 12:36 PM    Report this comment

I'd like to better understand the numbers and the issues with today's taxes before jumping into a new system that simply tends to preserve the current status quo. The approach Congress is talking about just seems to be incredibly risky with no rewards other than to let some politicians crow about cutting something out of the budget.

The fuel tax is roughly $.20/gallon...in a 16GPH Cirrus (or whatever), that works out to about $3.20 per flying hour - maybe $640 a year if you put about 200 hours a year on this type of plane. If you shoot maybe 30 instrument approaches over the year, you're paying in the vicinity of $20 per approach under today's system. A Gulfstream owner burning 350 gallons/hour and running 1,000 hours a year pays $70,000 in annual fuel taxes, and maybe $50 per approach by comparison.

Of course, there are plenty of other taxes and fees involved. Add to the fuel tax registration fees, state fuel and sales taxes and so forth...as a group, GA is hardly paying nothing.

Still, the aviation fuel tax only raises about 10% of the FAA's budget. That means in order to break even, instead of getting $3.20/hour out of my mythical Cirrus owner, they'd need to get $32/hour. It's not as far fetched as it sounds - in 2013, the Obama administration proposed a flat $100 ATC surcharge for every flight. Of course, we all know that this would have the unintended consequence of driving usage down, so higher fees in any form might not achieve anything other than fewer flying hours. This would likely leave the FAA with all the current expenses, but less revenue to pay for them.

Thing is, all the discussion is always on the revenue side of the equation rather than the expense side. The FAA's budget is roughly $15 billion...but what's the actual cost to the FAA for, say, an IFR approach or for monitoring a 100-mile enroute flight segment? Whatever good things you want to say about the FAA (and I have plenty), it *is* a government agency, and at the end of the day, there are probably expenses here and there that would make our eyes water. If it actually costs the FAA $100 for every IFR approach into a busy airport, then we simply need to find a better way.

Let's get at those costs and see what can be done to cut the FAA's expenses by a reasonable amount, and then we can argue about the best way to allocate these costs.

Posted by: Vincent Re | September 5, 2017 7:57 AM    Report this comment

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