Even in Washington, a town brimming with policy wonks and political hacks, air traffic control (ATC) is not a topic that gets much attention. That’s unfortunate, because it’s an issue with enormous economic consequences that impacts every American regardless of how often they fly. And this is precisely the kind of environment in which narrow special interests can sway policy to benefit the few at the expense of the overall American public.
Enter the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). This is an only-in-Washington organization that exists solely to protect the interests of private and corporate jet owners. And it is the reason why the nation’s air traffic control system is so antiquated and incapable of keeping pace with the modern demands of air travel that it accounts for nearly half of all flight delays and is the primary reason why it takes longer to fly routine routes, say from New York to Chicago, than it did 25 years ago.
In recent months, the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have all publicly supported a proposal that has been around since Bill Clinton first suggested it in 1993: to establish an independent entity to manage the nation’s air traffic control system. It is consistent with international norms and best practices and has been endorsed by major editorial boards, including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Yet it is being held hostage by the .01 percent who currently receive a subsidy for flying private jets.
Let’s cut right to the chase: NBAA’s vocal opposition to modernizing the air traffic control system has nothing to do with protecting the interests of the flying public and everything to do with preserving the status quo for private jet owners.
Even though there are far more general aviation aircraft, including corporate and private jet, than commercial planes using America’s airways, corporate jet owners pay only about 1 percent into the ATC system. Meanwhile, if you fly coach on any airline in the United States, you are in effect paying a subsidy to billionaire private jet owners who benefit from this sweetheart deal.
The bottom line is that NBAA has been living the special interest dream for way too long. Instead of blocking efforts to modernize ATC, it should stop standing in the way of making long-needed improvements to the outdated system. And its members, the people funding this charade, including representatives from some of the largest multinational corporations in the world — Honeywell, Monsanto, American Express, and United Technologies among them — should put the interests of their employees, most of whom fly commercial, and customers first instead of attempting to stall progress.
Everyone benefits from an ATC system that is state-of-the-art, agile, sustainable and safe, and it is only fair that users of the system pay for their fair share of its maintenance. So as Congress advances proposals to improve our nation’s ATC, the NBAA needs to put aside the interests of jet owners and support a proposal that will benefit the rest of the country — which flies coach.
Drew Johnson is Senior Fellow at the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, a non-partisan nonprofit think tank dedicated to exposing the effects of government policy on runaway deficits and debt.