Air traffic control and privatization

Plane noise opponents express their concerns


President Trump endorsed a proposal on June 5 to privatize air-traffic control, an action that was opposed by a number of those who have voiced their frustration over the plane noise plaguing Long Island.

“I think privatizing would be problematic,” said Larry Hoppenhauer, Malverne’s representative on the Town of Hempstead’s Town-Village Aircraft Safety & Noise Abatement Committee. “I guess one of my big questions would be — who are they going to be accountable to?”

Trump’s proposal, which would detach air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration within three years, suggests tracking airplanes with global positioning satellites to improve on the current method of radar and radio signals — resulting, officials say, in fewer delays, a safer system and lower costs. For the past several years, JFK, LaGuardia and more than a dozen major U.S. airports have implemented NextGen, the FAA’s satellite-based GPS system that replaces radars for those responsible for guiding planes from air-traffic control towers. The FAA has tried to get NextGen operational in all airports for over a decade, but the project is still incomplete. Trump’s privatization endorsement includes replacing all radar technology.

“While the FAA has made progress to upgrade our nation’s air-traffic control system, despite certain constraints, I support looking at new ways to help us provide stable and sufficient funding to more rapidly modernize our system, while maintaining the highest level of safety,” said Michael Huertas, administrator of the FAA in a written statement. “The proposal to create a separate, non-government air-traffic control service provider is a step in a process that needs to involve all users of the airspace system and deliver benefits to the system as a whole.”

Jeffrey Lewis, a former air-traffic controller in Oregon, said that selling the public on a new tracking system is misleading. “It’s a fraud to legitimize these implementations,” Lewis said. “It’s a fraud to think that routes are going to be better through different technology. But it will be a lot easier to sell if you say it’s something new.”

Lewis emerged as a whistleblower when a coworker nearly caused a midair collision because he was watching TV. Lewis became a target for retaliation and termination, he said, and, ultimately, took an early retirement from the government.

“The airlines don’t want to be bothered with such trivialities as how high their planes are flying and what runways they are using,” Lewis said. “Privatization only further insulates the airlines, which are supposedly being regulated by the FAA.”

Some, like state Assemblyman Brian Curran (Republican, Lynbrook) said that they were unsure about privatization. “I do know that non-privatization of the airports isn’t working for my district,” said Curran, who introduced legislation calling for a study to measure plane noise’s impact on health and the environment.

The Washington Post recently reported that many countries have government-owned corporations or independent government agencies responsible for air traffic control. Canada is, however, the only country with a private nonprofit corporation called NavCanada, which raises private capital and has recently lowered airline fees. The Congressional Research Service reported last month, though, that no conclusive evidence has been found proving that one approach to air-traffic regulation is better than another in terms of productivity, cost-effectiveness, service quality, safety and security.