A new bill in the House of Representatives, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania), seeks to “privatize” the air traffic control system, which would strip oversight away from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and create a new, private, non-profit corporation to oversee air traffic control (ATC) operations.
On the surface, this bill might sound like a good idea. But the word “privatize” is a misnomer. Instead of fixing legitimate problems with the FAA, the AIRR Act would overhaul the entire ATC system and replace a bureaucracy that is currently accountable to Congress with an unelected, unaccountable board of “stakeholders” — i.e. bureaucrats and union bosses — and give them complete oversight over air travel. This board would be accountable to no one.
Under this new system, air traffic controllers would enjoy all of the benefits of being federal employees, while avoiding all of the drawbacks. Russ Brown, writing in The Daily Caller, notes that air traffic controllers would have the option to keep their federal benefits packages and remain under federal labor jurisdiction. Additionally, air traffic controllers would be allowed to skirt the federal salary cap, enjoying the prospect of unlimited income potential.
And it gets even better for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the air traffic controllers union. The federal statute under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) that disallows air traffic controllers from going on strike would no longer apply, allowing NATCA to shut down air travel at any time for nearly any reason.
The AIRR Act would give away the U.S. government’s leverage and bargaining power — and its ability to keep flights running day in and day out — to a union that could, in all sincerity, hold our entire economy hostage. There would be no negotiation with NATCA — not when they hold all the cards — only highway robbery.
This “privatized” model has been implemented in several foreign countries, including Canada, Germany, and France, and the results have been devastating. Air traffic controllers in France have gone on strike several times in recent months,cancelling hundreds of flights and causing travel chaos and a serious headache for consumers. Even worse, the implications of these strikes go beyond commercial flights. Cargo flights are affected, too, obstructing commerce and slowing the transportation of goods around the country.
An air traffic controller strike is, quite simply, an economic crisis.
There is a reason Ronald Reagan, in his infinite wisdom, played hardball with the air traffic controllers in 1981. The job is simply too integral to the economy to give complete power to a union that would happily shut down air travel in order to advance its own self-interests.
Even if you view the AIRR Act without taking labor implications into consideration, which is nearly impossible to do, it is still bad legislation for consumers, who will see higher ticket prices in the form of user fees.
In countries with “privatized” ATC systems, ATC operations are mostly funded by user fees, which are essentially tolls paid for by airplane operators based on the plane’s weight and the distance traveled. As with any government-imposed tax or fee, rather than absorb a reduction in profit, corporations will pass the cost on to the consumer. Airlines will understandably do the same, resulting in higher ticket prices.
And once again, the ATC board is accountable to no one. These fees can be arbitrarily determined by union bosses, who are solely looking out for their own self-interests.
A new rallying cry has taken over American politics: “Just do something! Anything!” We are told that the American people are furious at Congress for its inaction, so therefore, Congress must act. But action, in and of itself, is not inherently good. Only truly good action is good. The AIRR Act feels much like Obamacare — well-intentioned, perhaps, but problematic in its actual realization. It’s time to rip up this idea and go back to the drawing board. Better to delay action than to pass bad legislation that will both devastate consumers and put our nation’s economic security at risk.