Air traffic controllers work in the tower at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Thursday, March 16, 2017. President Donald Trump is calling for privatizing the nation’s air traffic control operations in his budget proposal, a top priority of the airline industry. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
So, with Friday’s shutdown deadline past and the government remaining open for the moment, Congress is set to go about business as usual (much to the chagrin of us all).
One of the less talked about issues coming before Congress is the push by labor unions – particularly, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association – to “corporatize” or “privatize” air travel. Normally, this would probably not be that big an issue.
However, it is an issue now because of the most recent government shutdown. Airports were thrown into chaos because workers stopped showing up. That makes the need for “air travel reform” a thing people are discussing, and that gives NATCA a chance to get the ball rolling on one of their pet projects.
The union is specifically pushing for the “privatization” of the FAA because it sounds so nice to conservative ears. The problem with this effort, though, is that it isn’t pushing air travel completely into the private sector. Instead, it creates a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac-type system.
Sounds thrilling, right?
No one benefits from this except for the labor union. This type of effort only really exists to create more money in terms of salary and bonus packages for the workers… and, therefore, more money going into the union’s pocket.
Naturally, some Democrats love the idea because they love unions AND because the air traffic controllers helped make Republicans look bad during the shutdown. Kirsten Sinema and members of the Hawaii delegation have been especially vocal in supporting this “plan” for a while now
The worse news is that President Trump loved the idea, too, and was ready to help push it. However, most backers went silent prior to 2018 because the Republican pushing it, Bill Shuster, admitted to dating the top lobbyist for airline workers.
NATCA has returned after the shutdown to push this harder. As part of the push, the head of the Transportation Committee in the House, Peter DeFazio, let the head of NATCA testify and set him up perfectly to push the scheme.
“I’ve never seen the industry come together like we have around this,” said AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson.
A4A President and CEO Nicholas Calio echoed that notion, saying “the entire industry is galvanized and united as never before” in support of H.R. 1108, which would allow the FAA to pull from the Airports and Airways Trust Fund, which it continually pays into, to sustain itself and its programs without Congressional appropriations in the event of a shutdown.
“The FAA is unique,” said Rep. DeFazio. “It pays for itself. Why should they be subject to a shutdown? It’s critical. It’s internationally critical.”
What makes the idea so problematic is that it doesn’t “privatize” the FAA at all. Rather, it makes it a self-funding machine like Fannie and Freddie and just further delegates away Congress’s power of taxing and spending. The FAA would be allowed to raise fees as they see fit, and that would go a long way in increasing the pay and bonuses for the workers (and their unions) but do nothing to fix any “problems” within the airline industry.
We know this because it’s exactly what happened in Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. None of the “problems” that were identified in air travel (planes leaving and coming in on time, wait times, etc.) were actually fixed with similar moves. In many cases, they remained the same or got worse, with no visible effect other than prices going up.
What you end up with this in this scenario is a bigger monster than we already have and no actual solutions.