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It Was Going to Be About Strawberries

By Radek Wyrzykowski

June 2017 - I had my article already nicely lined up, outlined, and ready to go when the ATC privatization issue resurfaced again. This month’s article was going to be about strawberries and blueberries. I will have to keep you in suspense on how it relates to general aviation, and I hope you can be patient since IMC Advisor will not be published in July. We all (including the editorial team) will be in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for EAA AirVenture 2017. I will be tweeting systematically from the AirVenture grounds, and I hope you will follow us on Twitter. I have to confess I am still not entirely convinced about this social media concept, but I am told that if used properly it is the way of the future for news distribution.

I have expressed my thoughts about ATC privatization on many occasions, and this is not the first time this issue is resurfacing. There is a long way from President Trump’s signature on the order to any legislation, so I would not get too alarmed yet. Big signatures on “large framed documents” in government usually happen for a show. What happens next is what we must watch carefully. This part of the process is not going to be making front pages of newspapers. I believe there are still forces of sanity working in Congress, but there is certainly reason for concern.

The economic impact of user fees on general aviation would be indisputable, and it was covered in many publications and organizational statements already, but there are aspects of this not discussed in many places. I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal opinion on the more philosophical aspect of this issue.

As a career flight instructor, through the years I had a chance to work with students from many different parts of the world. Some of them would come from countries with well-developed or fast-growing general aviation segments, but still, they all ended up here in the U.S. for their flight training. The main reason is obvious: the cost of training. But there was always another aspect that would surface in our discussions: the freedom of flight! Without exception, all my international students were amazed at the freedom of flight that we enjoy here in our country. Almost nowhere else in the world can you wake up in the morning as a pilot, fly, and go wherever you desire without many restrictions. The sky belongs to the people, and as such should be controlled by the people. The only way that can be done is through representation, with the government as the institution. Let’s not forget that individuals in government will come and go; we need to look at the preserving the system.

So, do I feel that my freedom would be restricted? You bet I do. Any time something that should belong to all is being rationed to just few who can afford it, the freedom of all is affected.

Air traffic control in the U.S. is indisputably the most accessible and safest in the world. It is thanks to the group of passionate and dedicated men and women in towers and radar rooms. In the cockpit of any airplane you have someone who is flying because of his or her love of aviation, and on the other side of the radio microphone you have another member of this community following a passion for this industry. Can the ATC system be modernized to make their work easier? Of course it can, but think twice before you rush to any conclusions that a large, private corporation is going to make it happen. When was the last time you encountered the “efficiency” of your phone or electric company or financial institution? Their “efficiency” has allegiance to their self-preservation, not to you as a customer.

My biggest concerns are safety and proficiency. I am gravely concerned that this potential unfortunate decision could impact the lives of many pilots, students, and already low-paid flight instructors, along with the safety of the flying public in general.

During these tough times, when student pilot enrollments are already drastically reduced compared to decades ago, one should ask the simple question: How many flight instructors, students, and pilots will have extra funds to cover additional expenses? Pilot safety is at risk. Forcing the general aviation community, the very backbone of aviation safety, to incur additional costs will undoubtedly lead to less proficiency and poorly educated pilots, and will drastically compromise the safety of flight in general. 

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