FARGO-Mayor Tim Mahoney placed his signature next to 155 other mayors from across the country in a joint letter to Congress on Monday opposing privatization of the U.S. air traffic control system.
"We are happy to have government oversight when I'm flying. I want to make sure I have good people in there helping direct us in the landing area," Mahoney said Monday, March 6.
Air traffic control not only coordinates planes on the ground, but also keep airplanes, business jets and emergency medical aviation separated in the sky. There are 14,500 air traffic controllers in the country controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration, but there is a push to move that power to a nonprofit organization.
The letter sent Monday was addressed to Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee, and Republican Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce,Science, and Transportation. Shuster has been an advocate of privatization.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers, favors Shuster's legislation while The National Business Aviation Association strongly opposes it.
The intent of mayors from all 50 states who signed the letter is to keep the system and vital infrastructure under the control of congressional oversight rather than a private entity dominated by commercial airlines.
Mahoney said he hopes the letter will cause Congress to "pause and think about what they're doing." Already this year, Hector International Airport has been required to pay for Fargo police officers to provide security to satisfy the standards of a federal program, he said. Although some of those costs will be reimbursed, Mahoney said we can't "keep adding these things" to airports.
"Everything going in there is passed on to the traveler," Mahoney said of the increasing costs associated with privatization. He said there are also concerns about accountability if the system is privatized.
Mahoney was the only mayor from North Dakota to sign the letter. Minnesota mayors from Albert Lea, Ely, Winona and New Ulm signed as well as seven mayors from South Dakota.
"Small aircraft and airports are utilized on a daily basis to help transport blood and organs to residents in rural communities, reunite veterans back from overseas with their families, maintain power lines, and help our companies reach customers in far-off markets, among many other priorities," the letter stated.
The mayors argue that privatizing air traffic control would drive up ticket prices and give a board of private interests control over infrastructure funding, taxes and fees, consumer complaints and noise.
Advocates of privatization say a non-government entity in control will allow for a more efficient system better able to implement new technology initiatives.
Reuters contributed to the reporting in this story.