Air Traffic Control Privatization Creates Massive Risks

A Revenue-driven Model Would Endanger Safety and Eliminate Taxpayer Oversight

The United States has one of the most complex aviation systems in the world. The
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safely and efficiently manages over two million passengers and tons of cargo in the air every day.
New Hampshire’s 25 public use airports serve over 3,000 pilots and the air transportation needs of over 1.3 million New Hampshire residents, travelers, students and medical and military personnel.

A proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to privatize the FAA’s air traffic control (ATC) system and turn it into a not-for-profit corporation outside of the federal government. ATC privatization would eliminate congressional oversight and break up the FAA, putting our nation’s air traffic control system in the hands of private interests. This is especially worrisome, as the proposed ATC provider would not be accountable to Congress or taxpayers.

Privatizing a government function as critical as the management of our air traffic control system sets a dangerous precedent. The responsibility of managing the nation’s air traffic and the safety of its passengers should be guided by sound public policy, not the revenue-driven motives of a standalone corporation.

The proposed legislation carries worrisome risks for the people of New Hampshire and the backbone of the nation’s air traffic control system—the more than 15,000 air traffic controllers, engineers, safety inspectors and other employees that power it each day. In New England, the FAA maintains a large, diverse workforce of over 1,700 employees.[1] All of these workers power a system that safely and efficiently
moves more aircraft than any other country.

Of course the air traffic control system isn’t perfect and can be improved. But privatization will slow down technological progress and planned FAA upgrades, and may increase consumer costs. The measure will complicate the FAA’s focus on safety because goals of increasing revenue and reducing costs could be at odds with the FAA’s stringent safety mandate. 

General aviation supports nearly 800 jobs and contributes over $1 billion in annual economic impact to the State, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.[2] Changing air traffic control to a private, revenue-driven model will hurt general aviation and threaten good paying jobs and the working families who depend on them.

As a union representing thousands of FAA workers nationally, we know with certainty that privatization will eliminate essential workplace benefits and rights that we work hard to protect. Language included in the proposed legislation weakens labor laws and whistleblower protections for these employees and fails to guarantee that every collective bargaining agreement will have a grievance process, basically eliminating the means for employees to resolve workplace issues and protect their rights.

If privatization goes forward, employees performing the same job will have different pay and different benefits. This will decrease morale and make it difficult for the organization to attract and retain skilled and dedicated employees. This is especially serious considering that one-third of air traffic controllers are eligible to retire in the next few years. Over 1,000 have left the agency in the last year alone.

New Englanders fly 80 percent more frequently than the national average.[3] For people in New Hampshire, our air transportation system is essential to a strong economy that helps working families. Air travel powers commerce, fuels tourism and brings us closer to our families and friends.

Threats to workers’ rights, our safety and our economy demonstrate that there is too much at stake to justify the privatization of our air traffic control system. The FAA must remain a cohesive unit of federal employees, not a private business focused on revenue and costs.

Frank Moroney

Executive Director,
AFSCME Council 93

AFSCME International
Vice President

Frank Moroney is an AFSCME International Vice President and the Executive Director of AFSCME Council 93, which represents more than 45,000 state, county and municipal employees in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

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Op-Ed: Air Traffic Control Privatization Would Hurt New Hampshire’s Working Families

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Air Traffic Control Privatization Would Hurt New Hampshire’s Working Families

Recently, there has been a push by some members of Congress to turn much of the air traffic control system (ATC) over to an independently owned corporation funded by user fees. This type of large scale privatization of the public airspace would eliminate responsible oversight, put good paying jobs in jeopardy and break up the ATC system as we know it.

Privatization of our air traffic control system is bad for workers in our state and will hurt New Hampshire’s economy. Control of the skies, which has traditionally been governed by public policy, will be placed in the hands of people more care more about revenue than safety and access.

Time and again we have seen that privatizing entire sectors of our economy leads to increased costs and lost jobs. Now more than ever, we should be protecting jobs and vital systems like the ATC from privatization.

New Hampshire’s airport system helps working families by creating jobs that fuel our state and local economies, while generating millions of dollars in state tax revenue. In addition to economic impact, aviation services such as medical evacuation, search and rescue operations, law enforcement flights, military exercises, and flight training all contribute directly to the quality of life of those who live and work in the state.

In a state like New Hampshire, where 40% of residents live in rural areas, and 66 percent live in places with population of less than 10,000 people, any threat to the viability of general aviation services that businesses or municipalities rely on is serious and will have a ripple effect on throughout the state.

Indirectly, these airports are also crucial to the continued vitality of aerospace, aircraft manufacturing, educational institutions and aviation organizations in the state. It is estimated that 8.8 out of every 1,000 workers in New Hampshire are employed in the aerospace and aviation industry. Privatizing air traffic control will increase user fees, decrease access and put a rural state like New Hampshire at the bottom of the list of priorities.

In addition, the FAA maintains a large, diverse workforce of over 1,700 employees throughout New England that includes air traffic control specialists, engineers, safety inspectors and administrative support staff among others. Privatization plans will jeopardize their benefits and significantly weaken their labor rights such as collective bargaining and whistle blower protections. Future pay, healthcare and retirement benefits will no longer have the underpinnings of federal law, which applies to FAA employees today.

New Hampshire’s air transportation system drives the flow of commerce, tourists, and visitors to and from our state, and it is working families that reap the benefit in the form of basic services, better wages and a stronger economy.

As the debate of privatization continues, and its impact on general aviation, airports and airlines is evaluated, it is important to keep in mind that the hardworking families of New Hampshire will be the ones who are most negatively impacted, should privatization be enacted. That alone should be reason enough to oppose any privatization proposals.

Dave Laughton

Secretary-Treasurer, Granite State Teamsters Local 633 53

Goffstown Rd

Manchester, NH 03102 603-625-9731

laughton@teamsters633.com 

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is the only union that represents every craft of workers in the airline industry. IBT contracts now cover 80,000 airline industry workers, including mechanics, customer service and ramp agents, stock clerks, dispatch personnel, flight attendants, and pilots nationwide.

Teamsters Local 633 was chartered in 1934. Since that time they have grown to over 4,700 members working in New Hampshire for several different employers. 

Sources:

  1. http://www.nh.gov/dot/org/aerorailtransit/aeronautics/documents/Chapter9-EconomicContribution.pdf
  2. http://nata.aero/data/files/gia/stateadvocacy/governorsproclamationofgaappreciationmonth2014.pdf
  3. https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/arc/ro_center/media/ane_brochure.pdf 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the above piece are those solely of the author, and not the opinion of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

 

 

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