Just before press time—in late February—came the welcome news that the proposal to privatize the nation’s air-traffic-control function is dead. U.S. Representative Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced he has withdrawn his proposal from the must-pass bill authorizing spending for the Federal Aviation Administration. The concept was arguably the greatest threat ever to skydiving’s rightful place in the national airspace system. The scope of the victory shared by USPA and all of the general aviation groups who opposed the idea cannot be overstated; it is more than huge. Those of you who contacted your member of Congress after our calls to action can be proud. Your efforts paid off. Thank you.
The concept of stripping ATC out of the FAA and handing it to a newly formed private corporation with a board of directors dominated by airline interests conjured legitimate fears among all general aviation users, including DZs and skydivers. The FAA’s current policy of “first come, first served” would surely have been replaced with a corporate policy of “who pays the most goes first.” And ATC services weren’t the only concern. As written, the bill allowed the corporation to rearrange and segregate airspace in the name of safety and efficiency (as determined by the corporation). DZs near metro areas or in proximity to certain airways and arrival and departure routes faced real possibilities of altitude restrictions and ATC-induced delays in favor of airline traffic.
In fact, the concept wasn’t true privatization, and therefore it lost the support of those who believe that business can do everything better than government. The American Conservative Union Foundation applied its own Seven Principles of Privatization to the ATC privatization concept and declared that it failed five of the seven. The Congressional Budget Office determined the new corporation would be quasi-governmental, just like Amtrak (hardly a model of efficiency).
USPA was one of the first organizations to join a coalition formed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Business Aviation Association and the three other big guns of general aviation. That coalition soon exceeded 200 GA groups. USPA representatives actively participated in the strategy sessions. Learning of an undecided Florida congressman whose district encompassed DeLand, the site of many parachute equipment companies, we reached out and helped engage their employees in the fight. USPA’s board also allocated $20,000 from our Airport Access and Defense Fund to help air advertisements featuring Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, hero of the successful Hudson River ditching of his airliner, who came out strongly against ATC privatization.
The nightmare scenario is averted, although all GA groups will be vigilant against the idea being revived. Meanwhile, USPA can turn our government relations efforts back to the more common problems of rightful airport access, illegal state and local taxes on skydiving, and educating FAA officials to stem overzealous enforcement and erroneous interpretations of skydiving-related Federal Aviation Regulations. In future years we will all look back proudly on this time as one where we joined together and successfully preserved the future of this sport we love.