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Delta Study: Privatizing Air Traffic Control Would Result in Increased Airfare, Safety Concerns

Delta Airlines is clashing with Airlines for America and House Republicans over plans to privatize air traffic control in the U.S.

A study commissioned by Delta Air Lines lambasts a Republican-supported proposal to take air traffic control responsibility away from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and instead put a privately held, government-chartered entity in charge. The measure, currently being debated as part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, has earned widespread support from within the airline industry.

The Delta study, however, contends that privatizing ATC in the U.S. would mean travelers could pay fees that are 20 to 29 percent higher than under the FAA-operated system. Citing runaway fee increases following the privatization of ATC in Canada and the U.K., Delta contends that fees charged to airline passengers would be both more expensive and virtually unchecked if the scheme were to be adopted in the U.S.

The study based on independent research raises concerns that a privatized system would undo much of the work already done to modernize air traffic control in the U.S. Delta also pointed to fears that an independent and privately run air traffic control agency would have decidedly less accountability than an FAA-controlled system.

“It just doesn’t make sense to remove the system responsible for the safe operation of our skies from the safety oversight of the FAA,” Delta Airlines Flight Operations Chief Captain Steve Dickson wrote in a recent USA Today op-ed. “The FAA is the gold standard against which every other nation’s airspace is measured. Do we have more work to do to improve the efficiency of our nation’s airspace? Yes. Is privatizing the answer? No.”

Delta’s position puts the airline at odds with its own industry lobbying group. Airlines for America (A4A) has praised the notion of privatizing air traffic control and has made the bill’s passage a legislative priority.

“This is a historic day. We applaud the hard and diligent work the Committee has done to produce a bill that could accomplish for the National Air Space what others have only talked about for years, putting it at the forefront of aviation technology and innovation,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement applauding the proposal. “A more efficient system with proper governance, funding and accountability will bolster our nation’s first-rate safety record and result in more choice, more direct trips, lower fuel consumption, reduced emissions and fewer flight delays.”

Lawmakers behind privatization drive hope to pass the measure as part of the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill. The current FAA mandate is set to expire at the end of March.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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