Greetings from Washington!

April 22, 2016

As we go to press with this ABJ issue, NATA is in the midst of an intense lobbying campaign to help shape the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill titled, “The Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. Our Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs, Bill Deere, will provide a fuller “from the trenches” view of our team’s lobbying efforts; but, before that, let’s cover a few points on NATA’s multi-year strategy that is now bearing fruit as we ensure that the Voice of Aviation Business is heard loudly and clearly by legislators and other policy makers. NATA began laying the groundwork for this ongoing effort almost four years ago. By quietly and respectfully building key relationships, NATA’s reputation, relevance and view as an “honest broker” in Washington is yielding needed access, at this critical time, that is vital to ensuring your voice is heard. Throughout this period, NATA’s team sought solutions and focused on listening to both our members and policy makers.

At the same time, through multiple meetings with lawmakers and administration officials, our staff worked diligently to educate the Hill and federal agencies on NATA’s unique and critical membership and how seemingly well-intended policy prescriptions can have a detrimental impact on small businesses.

This provided the framework to develop thoughtful and member-driven policy positions for this key legislation. Further, to be most effective, these are relationships that must endure over time. It is folly to view policy debates as zero-sum game transactions. While we sometimes disagree with key policy makers, we continue to be respectful and solution oriented. Why is this so critical? The politics of Washington will grind on long after the fate of one piece of legislation is decided. Maintaining long-term, respectful relationships is the most effective way to guarantee the enduring effectiveness of NATA long into the future.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster released the specific language of the AIRR Act on February 3, 2016, then very quickly followed with a hearing six days later, and a full committee vote the following day. Although Chairman Shuster revealed some broad details over the last year, NATA did not have access to the bill’s language prior to its release. Going back to our point on enduring relationships, we made the decision to “keep our powder dry” and focus on the specifics of the bill prior to launching our advocacy campaign. We did this to ensure we maximized the efforts of NATA’s members at the most appropriate time so our message to lawmakers was not diluted by the passage of time or lack of volume. This strategy is paying off as we speak, but there is still a lot of fighting left to do to ensure aviation businesses remain a key part of this discussion.

With this as a backdrop, here are some key NATA observations on House Transportation Committee Chairman Congressman Bill Shuster’s AIRR Act:

  • On balance, the bill that passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will, in the long term, hurt general aviation businesses. In the U.S., we enjoy the safest, most complex, most diverse system in the world with unparalleled access for general aviation. Contrary to views often driven by academics and economists, from an operator perspective, the air traffic control (ATC) system works very well.
  • A sound bite often tossed around Washington refers to our ATC system as based on “WWII technology.” I invite any proponents of corporatizing ATC to spend some time in any enroute center in the country, the FAA Command Center in Warrenton, VA, the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, NJ, or any of a host of truly high-technology Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities around the nation. Yes, we do use radar as one of the technologies to provide surveillance of aircraft. Other surveillance technologies, including GPS and multi-lateration, are also currently being “fused” with radar data at these high tech facilities. For a point of reference, we also continue to use electricity, first introduced into our homes in the late 19th century. So, just because a particular technology endures, does not necessarily minimize its relevance. ATC is difficult to discuss in sound bites or elevator pitches. It requires a deep operational perspective to truly understand the impacts of massive change to such a highly developed, safe and stable system.
  • We are in no way apologists for the FAA’s struggles in rolling out large modernization programs. The FAA is making progress, albeit slower than anticipated. This is frustrating. However, it is important to understand and reset expectations about the degree of change that is possible and appropriate. Over a decade ago, policy makers in Washington introduced the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System – NextGen. Looking back now, the expectations about the ability to modernize the air traffic control system were unrealistic; and corporatizing the current system will do nothing to ease the challenges ahead. In the meantime, and rarely acknowledged, the FAA successfully built and is integrating three foundational technologies that are providing the framework for future success. Enroute Automation Modernization (ERAM) is now operational at all of the nation’s high altitude enroute centers. The ADS-B ground network is in place and provides surveillance and vital safety information today. And finally, Digital Data Communications (DATACOMM) is rapidly growing at key airports, including Teterboro.
  • Somewhat surprising for a transportation issue, the debate has become infused with ideology, “government—bad, private enterprise—always good.” While we do agree that more private-sector practices would greatly benefit the FAA, we are also urging caution based on the history of other similar efforts. It’s clear that creating government-backed enterprises is no panacea. Organizations similar to the proposed ATC corporation include Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Red Cross, and the Smithsonian and have met with very mixed results.
  • The proposed corporation will, over time, be dominated by the commercial airlines. The long-term impact of this is likely reduced service to small and rural communities with a further reduction of investment in safety-enhancing high technologies in those locations. Why would an airline-dominated board want to invest in areas of the country that they currently don’t, and likely never will, serve?
  • Absent the move to corporatize air traffic control in the U.S., many of the remaining provisions of the Shuster legislation are helpful and will improve the current system. This is a direct result of NATA’s approach to educating our nation’s policy makers on the vital role that general aviation businesses play in the nation’s economy.

Finally, please stay informed with all the tools provided by NATA. Visit http://www.nata.aero/nocorporation to contact your elected representatives and explain that the AIRR Act is bad for small businesses and general aviation. Actions like these are very effective and make a difference. Legislators listen to voters and job creators. Invite your Congressmen and Senators out to your business to show them how important the jobs you provide are to the local community. The time for engagement is upon us. Please stay in touch and let us know how we can help.

Republished from Q1 2016 Aviation Business Journal


Not The Answer for Air Traffic Control

March 21, 2016

The following is the full-length response opinion piece by Tom Hendricks’ excerpted by the Denver Post.

The Denver Post’s March 12th editorial, “The remedy for aviation delays,” endorsing a congressional proposal to create a federally chartered air traffic control corporation, is rooted in a number of factual errors that call into question the basis for the Post’s support. In fact, the creation of a federally chartered, not-for-profit air traffic control corporation will erode aviation system safety, stifle the deployment of new technologies and saddle the traveling public with ever increasing travel costs.

The Post’s first factual misstatement centers on the corporation’s governance. Federally chartering an air traffic control corporation, the Post implies, means the U.S. government somehow supervises it. While such corporations are required to provide annual independent audits and reports to Congress, controversies surrounding such corporations often come down to issues of managerial accountability and fiduciary responsibility. The Post itself noted the record of another such corporation, the Post Office. But other examples include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Red Cross and the Smithsonian. It is notable that each of these federally chartered institutions have required in their history some form of government intervention.

Next, the Post implies the corporation would be overseen by the government. Wrong. The corporation would be controlled by a 13-member board of aviation insiders. In fact, one indisputable fact at the legislative hearing on the proposal – the nation’s airlines would have effective control of the board.

The Post also buys into an argument put forward by many of the principal supporters of this proposal, largely academics and economists, about the level of modernization of the air traffic control system. These experts sorely lack the necessary operational experience and expertise required to develop a fully integrated perspective of the “puts and takes” critical to ensuring a balanced approach to safeguarding the unprecedented level of safety performance that is the hallmark of the U.S. air traffic control system.

Among other things, this lack of real world depth of experience blithely leads to simplistic pronouncements such as “a blip is just a blip” when referring to aircraft displayed on air traffic control systems and similarly, that the U.S. is “using World War II technology” as the foundation for our air traffic control system. These views are simplistic, uninformed and clearly point to an academic, not operational view of reality.

The incredibly robust U.S. air traffic control system is modern, highly-integrated and provides for an extremely high level of continuity in the face of disruptive meteorological and technological challenges. This system was designed with the predominant users of the system in mind – major airlines. One must only visit state-of-the-art FAA facilities like the Atlanta Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility, the FAA Command Center in Warrenton, Virginia, the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey and others to realize that these extremely robust and modern facilities leave “World War II” technology in the dust. These facilities, along with the Enroute Automation Modernization-equipped high altitude enroute air traffic control centers, are already fusing multiple sensor sources, including radar, Global Positioning System inputs and other sources into these highly-integrated systems.

We understand the idea of creating an air traffic control corporation is appealing to many, including the Post, as a way to address budgetary stability at the FAA. But doesn’t the Department of Defense deserve a little budgetary stability? What about federal law enforcement or programs to assist the poor with their heating bills, could they use a little budget stability? The FAA isn’t the only part of the federal budget that needs relief from political in-fighting over the budget.

Air traffic control is a monopoly and the governance of this proposed corporation is already precooked in the proposal endorsed by the Post to pick its winners and losers, leaving the consumer and general aviation largely on the outside looking in.