Survey: 62% oppose privatizing air traffic control

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Air traffic control
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A majority of voters, 62%, said they oppose the privatization of the U.S. air traffic control system (ATC), according to a poll released Thursday.

The phone survey of 800 registered voters was conducted by the research firm Global Strategy Group from Jan. 30 to Feb. 5 and was paid for by the Alliance for Aviation Across America, the League of Rural Voters and the Air Care Alliance, which oppose privatization. It has a margin of error of +/-3.5%.

"I think a lot of people feel comfortable with the FAA overseeing our air transportation system," Lindy Kirkland, executive vice president of the Air Care Alliance, said during a press conference Thursday.

The survey found that 43% of voters "strongly oppose" ATC privatization while 19% "somewhat oppose" it. Just 9% of respondents "strongly support" privatization while 17% "somewhat support" it.

The results were released on the same day that president Donald Trump met with airline and airport executives at the White House, where Southwest CEO Gary Kelly made the case for privatizing ATC. Replacing the U.S.'s radar-based ATC system with the GPS-based NextGen system is taking too long and has cost billions of dollars, Kelly told Trump.

Putting stakeholders in charge of ATC instead of the FAA is the solution, Kelly argued.

"We're not in control," Kelly said.

Trump appeared sympathetic to the proposal but made no clear statement on his position.

"I hear we are spending billions and billions of dollars [on NextGen]," the president said. "It's a system that's totally out of whack."

Last year, the House Transportation Committee approved a measure to privatize ATC under a model similar to Canada's ATC authority, Nav Canada. However, the proposal didn't make it out of the House.

Supporters, which include the trade organization Airlines for America and most of the major U.S. airlines, say that along with speeding NextGen implementation, privatization would remove ATC from the uncertainty of the politicized Congressional appropriations process.

Opponents, which include Delta and consumer groups, say that the process of reorganizing how ATC is administered would delay the implementation of NextGen and increase costs.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the House Transportation Committee chairman, is expected to revive the proposal later this year as Congress works toward reauthorizing the FAA ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.

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