Mike Huether gets some free press for his 2018 buzz-building effort by co-signing one little letter with six other South Dakota mayors to Senator John Thune. The Sioux Falls mayor, like a hundred-some mayors of smaller cities from all 50 states, wants Senator Thune, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, to resist a proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.
While the horserace blog mutters insultingly and unenlighteningly about the political smoke signals, let’s look at the actual policy that Huether and fellow South Dakota mayors Jerry Toomey from Mitchell, Carl Shaw from Edgemont, Steve Thorson from Watertown, Paul Aylward from Huron, Marty Huether from Wall, and Mark Carstensen from Sturgis are arguing:
Privatization would hand over decisions about infrastructure funding, taxes and fees, consumer complaints, noise, and many other priorities, to a board of private interests dominated by the commercial airlines. These are the same airlines that have cut back flights to smaller communities by more than 20 percent in recent years, and have stated their intent to divert investment from small and mid-sized communities to large ones where the airlines are most profitable.
We are also concerned about costs and access. For example, the Canadian, privatized system, which is often held up as the system the U.S. should emulate, is more expensive than the system we have in the US by miles flown. In the U.K., that system has seen “more delays, higher fares and reduced connectivity” at London’s airports since privatization. So while we all agree that modernizing our air traffic control system and investing in American infrastructure should be among our highest priorities, privatization is not the answer [Mayors Mandell, Goings, et al., letter to Senator John Thune and Senator Bill Nelson, 2017.03.06].
Donald Trump seems to support privatizing air traffic control, but he only knows what his private pilot tells him. The airline industry (with the exception of Delta) says privatizing air traffic control would allow for faster replacement of ground-based radar with satellite-based control. One conservative writer contends that the plan floating around right now isn’t really privatization but a quasi-governmental entity like Fannie Mae or Amtrak that would cost more than the current system. Delta Air Lines agrees, saying privatization raised air traffic control fees 59% in Canada and 30% in the U.K.
Regardless of what Mayor Huether runs for next year, he appears to be on the right track on air traffic control. It ain’t broke—nobody has bumped into anybody in Sioux Falls airspace—and privatization won’t fix it.