HUNTINGTON - Three leading West Virginia aviation groups have sent a letter to West Virginia's congressional delegation opposing a bill that would privatize the nation's air traffic control system.
The Huntington Tri-State Airport, the North Central West Virginia Airport, and the West Virginia Airport Managers Association represent a majority of the Mountain State's aviation community. In an Oct. 19 letter to West Virginia's congressional delegation from Jerry Brienza, manager of Huntington Tri-State Airport and president of the West Virginia Airport Association, along with Richard Rock, manager of the North Central West Virginia Airport, the group says research shows the bill is "likely unconstitutional."
"Recently, the three entities specifically created to provide Congress with non-partisan research and analysis have reviewed the air traffic control (ATC) 'privatization' proposal being pushed by the big airlines," the letter said. "The Congressional Research Service said H.R. 2997 was 'likely unconstitutional.' The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would raise the deficit by $100 billion. Finally, the Government Accountability Office said privatization would interfere with ATC programs that have delivered $2.7 billion in benefits to all users of the system and are on budget."
In addition, more than 100 business leaders from 50 states, most of whom are pilots, have expressed their opposition to the ATC privatization proposal from the big airlines, the letter went on to say.
"These are successful business leaders who understand a profit-and-loss statement, as well as flight plans, and are responsible for a significant number of jobs and investment," it said.
The bill was reported out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in early September to the full House.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has gone on record as well saying local airports and general aviation represent a vital connection for small businesses, farms, emergency responders and other critical services. That's why he is concerned about a possible move that could affect Huntington's airport as well as others across the country.
In March, the Alliance for Aviation Across America released a letter to Congress from more than 115 mayors in all 50 states expressing concern about the impact of air traffic control privatization on communities across the country, especially those in rural regions of the country. Williams was one of the mayors to sign the letter.
"As the mayor of a community that relies heavily on general aviation and our local airport, I understand firsthand the importance of reliable air service to our region's economic growth and access to critical services," Williams said. "Placing the air traffic control system under the control of a private entity could jeopardize that."
Airlines have complained that the Federal Aviation Administration has been slow to modernize the air traffic control system and that privatizing it would speed that process along and make the nation's air traffic system work more efficiently. President Donald Trump is supportive of privatizing the system, according to airline executives who met with him in the past year to promote the idea.
However, Brienza says there is no evidence supporting the contention that privatizing the current air traffic control system would save money or improve safety.
"Both the Tri-State Airport and the West Virginia Airport Managers Association strongly oppose the implementation of a private system managed mostly by major airlines and with little or no congressional oversight," Brienza said. "As major airlines continue to make unheard-of-before profits, medium and small airports are continually losing commercial air service. Access to rural communities is in danger already, and having airline control over ATC would not be beneficial to these regions. Corporate and general aviation users would be forced to pay user fees to pay for said services and would ultimately choose other forms of transportation for their travel needs."
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