Washington state mayors join senators opposing air traffic control privatization

Puget Sound Business Journal: Washington state mayors join senators opposing air traffic control privatization
By Andrew McIntosh

Two leading U.S. Senators are voicing bipartisan opposition to privatizing the nation's air traffic control system.

They're joined by four mayors from cities across Washington state and two Pacific Northwest congressman who expressed concerns about the privatization push last year.

The Federal Aviation Administration operation manages air traffic across the U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly favors privatization, slamming the system as "obsolete" based on the opinion of his personal pilot in a meeting with airline industry executives last month.

Any privatization move would affect Seattle-Tacoma International Airport operations more than any other of the dozens of airports across Washington state, but Sea-Tac Airport has not officially taken a position on the issue because it would not have any role in the ultimate decision, Sea-Tac spokesman Brian DeRoy said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) say they're against plans to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system because it would put the system's assets beyond congressional oversight.

“The public would not be well-served by exempting any part of the FAA from annual congressional oversight," Senators Cochran and Leahy said in a letter to leaders of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "A privatized system would provide consumers with no recourse for complaints or mistreatment, as it currently does through the Department of Transportation or their member of Congress."

Senate oversight ensures the focus remains on safety, the senators added.

The Cochran-Leahy letter was also signed by two other senators who sit on the Appropriations Committee: Susan Collins (R-Maine) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island).

Four mayors from cities across Washington state signed a protest letter opposing privatization Monday along with 110 other mayors from 50 states. The Washington state mayors are:

  • Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolber
  • Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson
  • Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz
  • Bingen Mayor Betty Barne


U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure's Aviation Subcommittee from Washington's 2nd District, said last fall that U.S. taxpayers have invested $50 billion in 66,000 air traffic control assets over the past 20 years and handing those assets to a new, nonprofit entity where the government loses oversight of them is a bad idea.

Larsen was backed by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio from Oregon's 4th District.

A poll last month found 62 percent of voters surveyed oppose attempts to privatize air traffic control services by carving them out of the FAA and turning them over to a new private, nonprofit entity. That poll was done for the Alliance for Aviation Across America, the League of Rural Voters, and the Air Care Alliance, which oppose air traffic control privatization.