Poll: Many in U.S. oppose privatizing air traffic control

A national survey finds the American public overwhelmingly opposes privatization of U.S. air traffic control, a proposal that is expected to spark fierce debate in the coming months within Congress and the Trump administration.

“The voters are crystal clear, with 62 percent opposing privatization and only 26 percent supporting it,” says Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president of the Global Strategy Group, a public affairs firm based in New York that surveyed 800 registered voters Jan. 30 to Feb. 5 on behalf of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, the League of Rural Voters and the Air Care Alliance. Forty-three percent of the people surveyed strongly oppose the idea, while 9 percent strongly support it, Pollock says.

In 2016, Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, introduced legislation to take responsibility for managing U.S. air traffic control away from the FAA and turn it over to a nonprofit board. House Democrats, led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, oppose the plan, saying it would drive up costs to travelers and have national security and safety implications. Air traffic control also came up in a meeting between Trump and airline executives Feb. 9, with the president calling the current system “obsolete,” according to a Bloomberg News report.

Groups that backed the new survey worry air traffic control privatization would hurt rural communities. “We all agree that we need to modernize our air traffic control system, but modernization and privatization have gotten a bit conflated,” says Selena Shilad, who leads the Alliance for Aviation Across America. “The way the proposal currently exists, to put air traffic control under the purview of a private board that would be accountable to private industry interests as opposed to the public good, makes us extremely nervous as a group that represents smaller communities and airports.”

The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Poll: Many in U.S. oppose privatizing air traffic control