Moran defies Trump, says private air traffic control would harm Wichita industry

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, is fighting to keep air-traffic control under the federal government.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, is fighting to keep air-traffic control under the federal government. The Wichita Eagle

Privatizing the nation’s air-traffic control system would end up putting commercial airliners ahead of private planes at airports around the country and in turn hurt Wichita’s aviation industry, Sen. Jerry Moran said Thursday.

Moran bucked President Trump, House leaders and many in his own party on the issue during a town hall meeting in the Textron Events Center.

“This administration has, and it’s probably a natural instinct for Republicans in particular, to hear the word ‘privatization’ and say ‘Well, that’s got to be a good idea,’” Moran said. “Well we can have discussions about other instances, but I can tell you in the case of general aviation, it is not a good idea. It’s a terrible idea.”

With Trump’s backing, a House committee has advanced a bill to take air traffic control away from the Federal Aviation Administration and give it to a nonprofit private organization called ATC Corp.

Supporters say privatizing would improve efficiency and hasten deployment of “NextGen” technology, replacing the existing radar-and-radio system with GPS tracking and digital communications.

Under the bill, the FAA would give its property, equipment and employees to ATC, which would be governed by a private board.

“From an aviation point of view, it means that they (airlines) would have positions on the board of this private organization,” Moran said. “I have no doubt that what they would emphasize is commercial air traffic in large megacities. So it means the commercial side would receive the emphasis, not the general aviation side.”

That would discourage growth of private aviation, a staple of the aircraft industry in Wichita and Kansas.

Approximately 30,000 Kansans are directly involved in aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturing and represent about $2.3 billion a year in earned salaries, according to figures provided by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.

About 90 percent of the state’s aircraft workers are in Sedgwick County.

The center doesn’t have a breakdown of how many work on airliners and how many work on private planes at employers including Bombardier, which makes Learjets, and Textron, which manufactures Beech and Cessna aircraft, said center director Jeremy Hill.

Moran said the air-traffic control issue will probably come to a head within the next few weeks.

“I think we’ve got the Senate solidly lined up against the administration and the House, and my prediction is, and I keep encouraging we’ll have an FAA reauthorization bill on the Senate floor in the next month,” Moran said. “And we’ll send our bill to the House and they can accept it, or we’ll do another series of short-term extensions, which has happened time and time again.”

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas