ATC privatization gets a new and very famous opponent

We’ve been covering the pending scheme to “privatize” air traffic control functions here for a while now. The plan is the brainchild of Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, but it’s also unfortunately attracted the support of President Trump. What it still hasn’t managed to do is get very much support from either party in Congress, and for many good reasons which we’ve outlined here in the past. And now the opponents of the plan have a new ally in their corner and it’s none other than the American hero brought to national attention by the Miracle on the Hudson, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

Sully’s expertise in air traffic safety was pretty well established in solid gold credentials when he saved the lives of everyone aboard his plane on that fateful day, but he’s also something of an expert on airline safety in the private sector as well. And he’s been looking over this plan and clearly doesn’t like what he sees. (Associated Press)

Who are you going to trust when it comes to what’s best for the flying public? Members of Congress or the hero of the Miracle on the Hudson, retired Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger?

Proponents of privatizing air traffic control, a top priority of President Donald Trump, face fierce resistance from some Republicans, many Democrats and various advocacy groups who have a forceful voice: Sullenberger, the pilot who managed to land an airliner in the Hudson River without the loss of a single life after the plane lost thrust in both engines.

Privatization plus another proposal that would make it easier for co-pilots to get academic credit for certification have drawn congressional opposition and stalled efforts to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, a must-do for Congress by Sept. 30.

That first paragraph probably explains better than anything else why this might be a significant development in the battle over this new ATC plan. The President’s approval rating is sitting somewhere in the 30s. The approval numbers for Congress are lucky to make it out of the teens on their best month. But Sully Sullenberger? We don’t have the same sort of hard data on that one but you may rest assured that among Americans who have ever heard his name it’s got to be near 100%. The guy is a legend. Everyone knows him and nearly without exception they would trust him.

His opposition sounds like it’s based on very rational, well thought out issues as well. One of the key elements of this new proposal which is drawing lots of opposition is a plan to cut back the number of training and flight hours for co-pilots. The bill’s supporters say this will make it easier to fill all of the open pilot jobs. Opponents remind them that if something happens to the pilot in mid-flight (which I’m sorry to say, does happen from time to time) then the co-pilot is going to have to land the plane while dealing with a major medical emergency.

This prompted Sully to make an apt comparison. “If we were having a problem attracting primary care physicians, would we suggest the solution was to reduce medical school a year or two?


In addition to the training and flight time requirements, Sullenberger reminded everyone that we are currently in a “golden age” of airline safety, not having had a single airline crash fatality in eight years. This make this ATC privatization scheme, “an extreme solution to a non-problem.”

Sully has more complaints to air during the interview which you can read at the link. They include subjects we’ve covered here such as the amount of power being given to the four major airlines and their unions as well as the influence of industry executives and lobbying groups “who don’t always have the interests of the traveling public in mind.” We’ll close with a commercial Sully already filmed where he explains it himself. Expect to see this on the air presently.