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Another Voice: Privatization of air traffic control will hurt WNY

By Colleen DiPirro

With approximately 7,000 planes in flight over the United States at any given time, the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system is among the most vital functions that our government carries out every day.

In New York, access to safe and affordable flights is integral to our local economy. In addition to allowing efficient business travel and general aviation activities, the aviation industry itself supports 37,800 jobs statewide, including dozens of rural airports that have a significant economic impact in their communities.

However, if a misguided proposal in the House of Representatives moves forward in Congress, this vital ATC service could be put at risk.

If passed, this bill would privatize air traffic control, dismantling a working system and putting in its place an untested framework with the potential to drive up costs and limit access. The ATC privatization proposal being considered in Congress would place a standalone corporation funded by user fees in charge of all air traffic operations, which has the potential to significantly increase travel costs for New York passengers.

Privatization would essentially create a government-sanctioned monopoly, a completely unaccountable body with free rein to raise fees and fares. Despite the ATC system’s extraordinary powers over public airspace, this private entity wouldn’t answer to any elected officials.

In fact, ATC privatization really boils down to a huge priority change: a shift in the ATC system’s focus away from equal access and toward annual revenue and the bottom line. That loss is of particular concern, because the reality is that a private ATC entity would not prioritize the airports of upstate New York.

In a privatized ATC system, smaller or more geographically isolated airports could face significantly reduced resources and airspace access.

The existing ATC system works, and it’s getting better every year. There’s no reason to compromise that positive trajectory with a transition that will be messy in the short term and potentially harmful in the long term.

The fact is that privatization (already costly and complex to put in place) carries serious risks, offset by only speculative benefits. And when families and businesses across our state depend on reasonably priced air travel, giving a private corporation the power to take it away simply isn’t an option.

The ATC privatization proposal must be stopped in its tracks. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have always done the right thing for upstate New York.

In this instance we need them to fight against increased fares and decreased access now, before they become a permanent reality.

Colleen DiPirro is president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.