Paucity of Veracity in Washington Could Impact Easton Airport by Craig Fuller


These days in Washington, what troubles me is not so much what people tell you that’s false, it’s what they fail to tell you that’s true. And, I’m not talking about statements dictated on Air Force One!

The privatization of the nation’s air traffic control system is set for debate when Congress returns next month. There are strongly held views on both sides. The debate features airline CEOs, President Trump and the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, Bill Shuster, on one side, favoring privatization while the general and business aviation community leads the opposition.

Does it really matter? Well, interestingly enough, the mayors of over 115 cities located in all 50 states are saying it matters to their communities and they oppose privatizing our nation’s air traffic control system – including Easton’s Mayor Robert Willey.

It matters because there are about 5,000 public use airports in the US. The airlines use about 10% of those. But, all of the airports represent real or potential economic hubs for communities. And, in places like Easton, the air traffic control tower is operated for the federal government by a private company. This and a few hundred other “contract towers” could be on the chopping block if a private company determined how best to spend resources across the country, especially if the company’s board was dominated by airline interests.

Because the airlines are so resolute in their effort to remove the air traffic control system from the federal government, plenty of people in the aviation community are very worried. Would these towers survive? Would access to the airspace be assured? How would issues involving fees be resolved if Congress is removed from the equation? Finally, wouldn’t a huge organization upheaval set back the comprehensive modernization effort now underway?

These questions are not easily answered….in fact, they are not really even being addressed. The proponents merely assert that privatizing the air traffic control system is the only way to advance modernization. They suggest we are falling behind with equipment based on World War II technology.

Of course, it is based on World War II technology….and, so are our most modern aircraft today.

It’s what the proponents don’t tell you that has me perplexed.

They don’t tell you that this World War II thing called radar has been modernized and “lives” very much in a digital world. The so-called “blip” the controller sees is generated by modern technology.

They complain about things being old, but they don’t tell you that their exciting “new” proposal to privatize air traffic control has been around for more than three decades and has never been approved by Congress.

They suggest Canada has modern features like electronic flight strips that controllers use, but they don’t tell you that the aviation community – including airline executives – working on priorities for air traffic control never made electronic strips a priority. And, they don’t tell you that in Canada, these electronic strips are part of a billing system that charges aircraft by their weight and distance flown.

They suggest that the airlines really would benefit by having more control over modernization, but they don’t tell you that airline CEOs have lead the FAA-created NextGen Advisory Committee since its inception and well over 100 airline executives participate in the Committee’s work.

They suggest that a more modernized system would greatly reduce frustrating delays. But, they don’t tell you that over 80% of air traffic delays are caused by the weather and most of the others are due to airline related issues.

Perhaps what is most galling is that when Members of Congress go to the White House for a “briefing” by the National Economic Policy Council staff, they are told the only way to provide stable funding and modernization going forward is to privatize, yet these White House briefers are sitting on a detailed study commissioned by the FAA that outlines just how Congress could make changes that would provide the necessary funding flexibility, even borrowing authority to advance the modernization process.

Finally, while some in Congress and the Administration suggest the current system is seriously flawed – one organization used the term “dysfunctional” – a study requested by the Congress and conducted by the Government Accountability Office provides a very thorough and complete picture of real progress on the modernization of our air traffic management system by the FAA over the past several years. Since this didn’t fit the narrative of disarray some in Congress were trying to create, they buried the study by requesting more and more information. But, that information has now been incorporated. I understand that the conclusions are the same. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee should call for the publication of the study immediately so that the current reality can actually be considered as a decades old proposal is debated.

The veracity deficiency in Washington not only deteriorates the political discourse, it also adversely affects critical policy discussions.

Today, the United States has the safest, most efficient, complex and largest air transportation system in the world. Thousands of people deserve credit for operating this system every day and also deserve credit for focusing on the modernization of the system with new technology.

I do not believe the case has been made for privatization. More importantly, I do not believe that all of the cards have yet been put on the table to inform the debate. It is in Talbot County’s interest and it is in the nation’s interest to see that judgements are made based on the facts…all the facts!

Craig Fuller was the assistant to President Reagan for cabinet affairs and chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Following eight years in the White House, he lead public affairs firms and two large associations. He now resides in Easton with Karen Fuller where where he provides strategic counsel to aviation organizations. His interests include writing, photography, boating and raising the family’s Weimaraner.

Letters to Editor

  1. Alan Boisvert says:

    Strange, I thought conservatives (Talbot County, largely conservative) want big government out of their hair. Then why not celebrate the opportunity to take over your airport and privatize. Can’t have it both ways or only when convenient.

    • Sarah K. Porter says:

      Actually, you can have it one way — when it is appropriate and safe — and another way when it is it no necessarily any of those things. Via Spy, Mr. Fuller has provided a lot of good information here — much more than the average citizen would find in general media — that explains why our mayor (and so many others) opposes privatization, and what the issues and concerns are. Kudos to both.

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