Delta Sole Airline Against Air Traffic Control Privatization

Feb 4, 2016

Republican Rep. Bill Shuster wants a private company to take over the nation's air traffic control system.

Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, introduced a bill Wednesday that would end the Federal Aviation Administration's management of air traffic control and put a nonprofit corporation in its place.

He has the support of all major airlines in the U.S., with the exception of one: Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.

Delta's C.E.O. Richard Anderson called the effort to privatize air traffic control "unnecessary and unwise," in a letter to the committee.

“The people who are really interested in this are the airlines,” said Hans Weber, an analyst and President of TECOP International, who supports privatization himself.

The trade group representing major airlines like Southwest, American, United and Alaska has applauded much of the reform proposed in Shuster’s bill, because it could lead to technology updates, which the FAA has been working to implement for some time.

With the new technology, Weber said, “the airlines could save a lot of fuel on takeoffs and landing because it could fly efficient flight paths out of the airport and into the airport, as well as on route.”

So why isn’t Delta joining its competitors in backing the proposed change? Aviation analyst Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly said the airline, as usual, is charting its own path.

"Delta as opposed to some of the other airlines seems to feel that – look the system isn't perfect, but the idea that anything at all is better than the current system is not necessarily the case. It would be possible to make things even worse," said Kaplan.

In its letter, Delta outlined what it sees as risks, including potentially increased costs for travelers.

In any case, Kaplan said the air traffic control bill is far from a done deal. It will likely face an uphill battle on Capitol Hill.