NBAA’s Lucas Talks GA Access in Chicago

The fight to stop ATC privatization is hardly over.

nba christa lucas
NBAA Vice President of Government Affairs Christa Lucas spoke to members of the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association on Wednesday.Rob Mark

Christa Lucas, the NBAA's VP of Government Affairs, yesterday shared timely bits of information about happenings on Capitol Hill in the new legislative session with members of the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association at a meeting near Chicago Executive Airport.

While Lucas gave credit to the White House and Congress on provisions in the new tax law that allow 100 percent immediate expensing of new and used aircraft, as well as the clarification confirming that operations of managed aircraft are no longer subject to the passenger ticket tax, she quickly moved to what the association still believes is the 800-pound gorilla in general aviation’s room — privatization of the air traffic control system and by default access to the NAS itself.

Despite Congressman Bill Shuster's (R-PA) recently announced retirement at the end of the year, Lucas said it's clear "Mr. Shuster is not giving up on his plan to privatize air traffic control." She explained the new ATC board, as it's presently understood, will have full control over system funding, as well as access and airspace decisions, as well as other priorities within the ATC system. To date, more than 150 aviation-related groups across the nation have said no to privatizing the U.S. air traffic control system. A big question on the minds of most privatization opponents remains, how does privatizing the system fix the problems we face?

“People around Washington say we should be like Canada and Europe with slot controls that tell you where you can fly and when,” Lucas said. She detailed the messages Mr. Shuster and his supporters have been using, like debunking the airline control of the Board the GA side of the world worries about. “They call it equal representation,” she said. “But that’s not what we see when we look at the makeup of the Board. Yes, there’s one seat for GA and one for business aviation. And yes, there’s one for the major airlines and another seat for the cargo airlines and yet another for the regional airlines.” The Air Line Pilots Association will also hold a seat on the new board. “Do you really think ALPA’s going to stand with GA or business aviation on some important issue that affects the airlines?”

She also spoke to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association that, at the leadership level pretty much supports privatization. Remember sequestration? Lucas said that Congressional funding morass really frightened the controller’s union and convinced them to support privatization. She was quick to also point out that while the union’s leadership supports privatization, support by rank and file controllers is closer to a 50-50 proposition.

Importantly too, Lucas said, is the plan to deal with complaints about access under the new ATC Board. She said that if any one group doesn’t agree with the access as it’s laid out by the ATC Board, the only option would be to hire a lawyer and sue in court. The problem is that access issues will only be debatable if they’re based on safety. Lucas said, “We all know access issues are based on economics and we won’t be able to argue on economics, only safety.”

Lucas said the industry also needs to be on the lookout for President Trump’s release of an infrastructure plan near the State of the Union address at the end of January or early in February. “This will be another opportunity for them to try and do something on ATC privatization.”

NBAA sent out calls to action last year that Lucas said generated some "80,000 phone calls and more than 100,000 e-mails to Congress because people took five minutes out of their day. We need to keep that effort up because it's not over yet." She pointed to the wealth of information available at "ATC Not For Sale," and the NBAA's outreach tool at the association's website.

“We have at least another six months of hard work ahead of us and we can’t stop fighting now. The minute we turn our backs will be that minute they try to privatize the air traffic control system. We all need to stay engaged.”