President Trump’s proposal to privatize America’s air traffic control system deserves a serious discussion.
The president has some important players on his side of what’s likely to be a rancorous debate, including officials at most commercial airlines and the union representing air traffic controllers.
But we think it’s important to remember that in the most vital metric — safety — the current system, run by the Federal Aviation Administration, has a sterling record.
Mr. Trump, employing his trademark sense of exaggeration, seems to belittle this reality when he says, for instance, that the FAA “didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” and when he describes the air traffic control system as “horrible” and “broken.”
The domestic airlines that fly large passenger jets (we’re excluding regional commuter airlines) have not had a single fatal crash in the U.S. since Nov. 12, 2001. This is an incredible statistic, considering those airlines carry about 2 million passengers each day.
The air traffic control apparatus is of course only one part of the system responsible for this incredible achievement.
But it’s hardly an unimportant part. And if it were the abject failure the president implies it is, it seems improbable that the airlines’ safety streak would have lasted so long.
We’re not suggesting that turning over air traffic control to a private nonprofit corporation would absolutely make the system less safe. Indeed the transfer might well yield benefits in cost savings or in efficiency, without losing any of the immense gains in safety. And we understand the lure of removing this vital system from being dependent on Congress for its budget.
The president’s descriptions of the current system as “ancient” and “antiquated” are more reasonable than his other accusations, according to experts.
But we hope that as members of Congress consider Trump’s proposal, they’ll remember the adage about not fixing things that aren’t broken.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.