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Controllers Say Privatizing Air Traffic Control Would Jeopardize Safety, Fail to Address Real Problem of Airport Capacity - (2/22/2001)

WASHINGTON – While increasingly vehement in opposing the idea of privatizing the U.S. air traffic control system, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association again is urging a closer look at the real problem affecting air travel: Traffic growth is overwhelming space limitations at the nation’s major airports.

Today’s release of a report by the Reason Foundation’s Robert W. Poole Jr. advocating privatization reveals nothing new. Mr. Poole has been releasing the same report for two decades. This time, he again fails to address the shortage of airport capacity, which is the major cause of non-weather flight delays.

“Critics who talk about trying to fix the air traffic control system don’t want to acknowledge the most pressing issues in this increasingly important debate,” NATCA President John S. Carr said. “We continue to work very hard to create new and more efficient ways to accommodate additional traffic in the air. But we must be given more space to have the aircraft take off, land and taxi and that is the basic, simple issue here.

“All privatization would do is balance the bottom line of a so-called self-supporting corporation against my bottom line – safety. This is not a risk that air travelers in this country should be forced to take. The true bottom line is we have the safest system in the world. Let’s put the focus where it belongs – on increasing capacity.”

Carr said privatization would halt the progress made by an increasingly stable and productive Federal Aviation Administration management structure overseeing system improvement and modernization. But Carr points out that even the most modern system would add just a small fraction of the flights a new runway could accommodate.

Carr noted, “Many in the industry embrace the idea that just 50 miles of runway is all that stands between us and a delay-free system. One new runway at each of the 25 busiest airports in the nation would do more for this country’s aviation needs than 20 years worth of Mr. Poole’s reports ever will.”

“Air travelers will continue to endure delays if we do not increase airport capacity,” Carr said. “I believe everyone involved in this issue wants to see positive results but privatization has no relevant place in these discussions.” Carr went on to add, “If Mr. Poole wants to contribute to the public policy debate on this issue, he needs to come up with concrete solutions, and by that I mean he can start pouring some new runways.”

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