FAA Privatization Debate Presents Problem for Smaller Airports

Smaller airports might not fare well under a plan that gives more power to companies.

by Chris Kaergard, Journal Star, Peoria, Ill. / June 15, 2017
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(TNS) -- WASHINGTON, D.C. — Changes at the Federal Aviation Administration — effectively transforming the agency into a public-private partnership — proposed by President Donald Trump have central Illinois lawmakers more than a little leery.

What concerns them? The fate of small airports, conditions for private fliers and safety.

Smaller airports might not fare well under a plan that gives more power to companies, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said.

"We're not Chicago, we're not Detroit, we're not Atlanta, we're not LaGuardia. Under privatization, where the whole mission of privatization is for the private sector to make money, my concern is what happens to smaller towns that are not heavily populated, that already struggle to make sure we have the flights we need to get to the places we want to go," the Moline Democrat said. "Their priority is not going to be places like Peoria and the Quad Cities and Rockford."

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood said he had some concerns about the proposal, but the Peoria Republican said he wanted to hear more from the airport operators in his sprawling district before determining a final stance on the proposal.

The public-private partnership under discussion has seen success in Canada, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said, producing a modernized air traffic control system there. But the Channahon Republican said there were also side effects.

"What you notice in Canada and in Europe is they have a dead general aviation sector," he said. "They charge user fees every time a guy with a Cessna decides to go fly, so it runs small people out of business."

For U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, one of his largest worries is ensuring passenger safety if a private or public-private group operates the FAA.

"If there's ever an area where you want to make sure there's public service, it's in safety in aviation, something every person should be confident of when they board an airplane with their family," the No. 2 Senate Democrat said.

But, he agreed, having the debate is worthwhile because it could help spark other needed changes.

"The idea is worth discussing — the debate is worthy because there are things we need to do to improve aviation in America," he said. "We have been talking for too long, too many years, about modernizing our whole technology and aviation system. It's too slow, and frankly we're not moving nearly as fast as technology, so if this serves to motivate us to move more quickly and more thoughtfully, it'll be a positive experience."

Ensuring that airlines don't have unfettered control over a board in any public-private reform is also crucial, Kinzinger said.

"If we're going to do this board, I don't want the airlines to have all the power, frankly," he said. "I'm pretty frustrated with airlines right now. There needs to be many more seats for general aviation at the table. I think there needs to be a guarantee that there's going to be enough money for modernization of smaller airports, that there's never going to be user fees on general aviation."

©2017 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.