Flying in the United States can be made safer, more efficient and easier for all travelers by modernizing air traffic control (ATC), yet the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) — a group claiming to speak for corporate and private jet owners — is leading the charge against this much-needed reform.
“Rather than work toward a future that benefits everyone, NBAA is clinging to the past,” according to Pete Sepp, President of National Taxpayers Union. “The status quo is untenable for taxpayers. The FAA’s 'Next Gen' ATC system upgrade is now running billions over budget and years behind schedule.”
“The new air traffic control system will benefit everyone,” Charlie Leocha, President of Travelers United adds. “After spending $7.5 billion of tax revenues over the past decade, the ATC system is still using the WWII-era radar-and-paper-strips. It’s time to get the job done properly.”
“An analysis shows travelers typically shell out more than 20 percent in taxes, fees, and government charges on an airline ticket,” says Leocha. “In addition, high-end private jets pay only 0.4 percent of the costs to maintain the current system yet use 10 percent, or about $1 billion, of air traffic control resources. Corporate jets are also exempt from passenger taxes which fund 95 percent of ATC operations."
Leocha and Sepp noted that support for ATC reform is both broad and deep. An open letter from 23 free-market organizations and advocates earlier this year noted that “User-funded, user-accountable entities are far more capable of delivering timely improvements in a cost-effective manner than government agencies.” “By drawing on the positive experiences of nations that have freed their air traffic control operations from the stifling grip of bureaucracies, policymakers can chart a saner course.”
“It’s difficult to understand why the NBAA is railing against the current ATC reform legislation,” says Sepp, “because it actually answers all of their publicly stated concerns.”
Many modifications have been made to the AIRR Act to accommodate the concerns of general and business aviation. These include:
- Both general aviation and non-commercial corporate jet customers would be exempt from new fees or charges that the non-government entity could levy on other users. Neither the new entity nor the Transportation Secretary would be able to change this prohibition.
- For the first time ever, all users would by law be guaranteed access (and remedies to enforce their rights) for the National Aerospace System. This includes corporate jets, which can be (and are) denied access under current policies.
- The 13-member board of the new air traffic control entity would have just one representative from commercial national air carriers (compared to four in previous bills). General aviation as well as the business aviation community would each have their own board member.
“Yet NBAA continues, in essence, lobbying against last year’s bill and trying to stoke false fears with the flying public,” says Sepp, noting that NBAA is saying that even with AIRR Act’s safeguards, a future Congress could vote to impose ATC fees on NBAA members. “Taking an argument like that to its ultimate conclusion means Congress should never be allowed to convene again. How absurd!” he adds.
Despite NBAA’s current stance, the following is the truth behind the AIRR Act and its support by the National Taxpayers Union and Travelers United:
- The status quo is denying everyone – including business aviation and the communities serving it – better access to airspace, innovations such as remote towers, and economically efficient travel.
- The AIRR Act not only protects business aviation from discrimination, it also adds new safeguards against higher fees or taxes from ATC reform.
- NBAA deliberately distorts these facts out of fear that someday, somehow, Congress might decide to end business aviation’s seemingly unfair subsidy for using the ATC system.
- By standing in the way of reform, this one special interest is denying everyday airline consumers, cargo companies, piston-engine pilots, small regional airline passengers, and even NBAA’s own members the benefits of a modern, user-accountable ATC system.