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Pilots rally against ATC privatization at AirVenture

By Alyssa J. Cobb, for AOPA

EAA AirVenture – one of the most-loved, most-renowned aviation events in the world that showcases all segments of the industry – would likely be shut down under air traffic control privatization being advanced in H.R. 2997, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO Jack Pelton told hundreds of pilots gathered at the show July 24 for a rally against ATC privatization.

“This would be the most devastating thing that could happen to AirVenture,” Pelton said.

Pelton was joined by AOPA President Mark Baker, National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen, and General Aviation Manufacturers Association President Pete Bunce, who united in speaking out against ATC privatization and debunking myths that are being perpetuated by the airlines.

GA will be in the “fight for our lives for the next four or five or six months,” Baker said. “Thanks to all of you in the room, they do listen to us,” he continued, adding that the 20,000 pilots now flying under BasicMed is proof of the influence pilots have on Capitol Hill.

All the association leaders debunked the many myths the airlines and some in Congress are spreading around Capitol Hill and to the public.

Pelton said that we (U.S. pilots) need only look at ATC systems in Canada and Europe to see how privatization has practically killed GA. In Canada, notams may be issued periodically advising VFR traffic of delays, reroutes, or declined clearance requests around the country’s busiest airports like Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg during peak operations.

Baker noted that the airlines are claiming that the ATC system is using antiquated World War II radar, but he said that while radar was invented in World War II, “radar isn’t something we want to give up.” Modern technologies like GPS are being used by ATC to make air transportation more efficient, he said.

Another myth is that airline delays are attributable to antiquated ATC systems and practices such as controllers passing paper strips of flight information back and forth. In reality, 70 percent of delays are caused by the high concentration of flights in the Northeast (airline scheduling) combined with a lack of runways and weather delays. ATC can’t control either of those variables.

Members of Congress are claiming that GA “got everything they wanted” by leaving user fees out of the privatization proposal, but that’s far from the truth, the CEOs said. “I’ve never been asked anything,” Baker said, explaining that none of the four heads of the GA associations at the rally had been contacted for input on the legislation. Bolen went even further, saying that GA was purposely ignored.

Bolen said that the major airlines have tried to seize control of the ATC system for more than two decades. The airlines want to have “economic power, economic control, economic domination,” he said. “Twenty-five years later, that’s still true, and that’s embodied in this bill, H.R. 2997.”

“Giving a monopoly to an airline cartel” would not be a wise move, Bolen reiterated. He elaborated with a hypothetical scenario that could be possible under ATC privatization. The private monopoly created to run a privatized ATC system could shut down New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport during bad weather to prevent delays at Newark, and GA’s only recourse would be to hire a lawyer. This private system would not have congressional oversight, meaning that the public would have no voice in how it is operated.

GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce joined the town hall meeting to discuss the importance of fighting H.R. 2997. “I encourage Oshkosh attendees to learn why it’s critical for everyone to contact their representatives in Congress and urge them to oppose H.R. 2997,” said Bunce. “Over half of the 70,000 flights per day in the U.S. system are general aviation flights, and the proposal in this bill will not protect airspace access and air traffic service for the industry.”

“We’re enjoying what other generations have handed down to us,” Bolen said, adding that pilots needed to unite to protect the system for future generations.

“The U.S. air traffic control system is the safest, most efficient system in the world with the most diverse users, who have a unique freedom to fly safely at a moment’s notice,” said Bunce. “We can work with Congress and the FAA to make improvements to our system and leverage the new air traffic control technology that has recently been deployed, but we do not support handing the system over to a small board of private interests that will reduce access and harm investment in general aviation, and rural and small communities.”

Pilots can call 855/383-7330 (AOPA) or visit AOPA’s call to action page (type to reach out to their member. Or calling the toll-free number at (855) 265-9002 will connect you directly to your lawmaker’s office. Phone calls are more effective than e-mails, so act now. In addition, you can go to EAA’s Rally Congress tool ( to send an e-mail or to find the local office of your representative.

“We want to win this every day, every week,” Baker said, “for the rest of the year.”

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