Foes of AIRR Act say it would hurt Aspen general aviation

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen's air-traffic control tower is shown in the background at the airport, where a private jet rests on the apron. A congressional bill aims to shift control of the nation's air-traffic control system from the FAA to the private sector.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

A Colorado trade group is sounding off over concerns about a congressional bill it claims would hurt general aviation in such rural markets as Aspen.

Last week, the Colorado Aviation Business Association issued a statement in response to a bill introduced earlier in February by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.). Called the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, the legislation aims to strip air-traffic control services from the Federal Aviation Administration. Instead, the system would be privatized by creating a not-for-profit, non-government entity to manage it, according to the bill.

Supporters of the act, including most of the commercial airline industry with the exception of Delta Airlines, say that privatizing air-traffic control will result in a more efficient system that won’t be vulnerable to federal cuts and will be a step ahead in technology.

Opponents say general aviation might lose airspace with the FAA no longer in control. Major airlines would have seats on the privatized corporation’s board of directors and could dictate fees as well, foes of the bill contend.

Currently, both general and commercial operators pay toward air-traffic control through an aviation fuel tax.

The Colorado Aviation Business Association, however, contends the general aviation community would pay a disproportionately higher amount with the new bill.

“It may sound benign, but the mechanics behind this bill will not only have a negative impact on aviation businesses in Colorado, but also the potential to negatively impact small businesses and people in rural towns throughout Colorado like Aspen, Steamboat and Gunnison,” said Mike Straka, chairman of the Colorado Aviation Business Association, in a statement.

John Kinney, director of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, said he understands both sides of the debate.

The FAA’s air-traffic control system faces a shortage of controllers, while a common argument is that the FAA has become too big and can’t keep up with technology like a privatized air-traffic control operator could.

But, Kinney said, “General aviation accurately says this is going to be over-burdensome.”

The Aspen airport has one fixed-based operator, Atlantic Aviation, whose executive director, Fred Mosher, said he was aware of the bill but is not following it closely.

Kandi Spangler, spokeswoman for the Colorado Aviation Business Association, said there’s a misconception that general aviation is for the “rich, corporate fat cats.”

She noted that medical flights are part of general aviation, and the act would be “very cost-prohibitive for general aviation to serve these small communities.”

The bill passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Feb. 11.

Since then, the proposed act has stalled. But its sponsor, Shuster, said the process could be drawn out.

In a statement, he said the bill “proposes significant reform of our aviation system, and many current members of Congress have not seen a proposal such as this during recent FAA reauthorizations. This is an ongoing process, and we will continue working to educate members and address questions they have about the bill.”