Witness to a fundamental change

April 1, 2013 by Craig Fuller

At moments like this, it is useful to step back from some of the day to day debates we engage in and reflect more broadly on the forces impacting the general aviation community and other national interests as well. I think we need to recognize that there are real changes taking place in the way government delivers and funds services…changes that affect all of us!

The FAA’s decision to stop funding operations in air traffic control towers has launched a search for alternative methods to keep these towers open in communities across the country. In some cases, states are stepping forward. In other situations, airport authorities with their own funding sources are indicating their towers will not be allowed to close. In other communities a search for local funding from businesses and operators who benefit by having the tower is underway.

But, it is not just aviation where this is occurring.

In healthcare, the fear of not having the kind of medical service desired has caused a growth of concierge health services for those who can pay for more immediate and personal service.

With the threat of TSA lines getting longer, services are being offered to expedite the clearance process, again for those who can afford to pay.

Obviously, our nation’s highways are seeing an increased use of toll lanes. And, now, even in some areas the tolls vary depending on the traffic conditions or time of day.

With the ease of collecting fees, it seems that charging those individuals who desire a certain type or level of service is becoming more common place.

These changes will most certainly cause people to think differently about the way in which services are being delivered. If communities are going to pay for their own air traffic control services, I suspect hours of operation and the levels of service will be issues that those who pay will want to have more say over and they will look less to the federal government since they seem determined to step away from offering support.

Will this change the way we look at other aspects of air traffic control? Will there be a renewed debate over just how we actually deliver air traffic control services? I suspect there will be such a debate especially as those who operate in the system are being asked to pay more.

The path to modernize our air traffic control system requires aircraft operators to place certain equipment in the planes they fly. This makes sense only if the organization running the air traffic control system has the capacity to provide services that allow those who equip to use the technology….something that is of growing concern to the entire aviation community.

You see, if one day we learn that 149 towers are closing, what’s next?

I really do believe we are more at the beginning of a discussion about the role the federal government plays with regard to air traffic operations than we are at the end of a dialogue.

It has long been the case that the failure to make a decision in Washington, D.C. is in and of itself a decision.

We are implementing very significant changes because policy makers in Washington did not act to avoid sequestration. But, that “decision” will most certainly cause a whole new look at the way services are being provided and funded….and, in this debate, our air traffic control system will come under ever closer scrutiny.

We have the most complex and safest air traffic system in the world because every day the pilots who fly planes and the controllers who guide and direct tens of thousands of operations work together insuring that citizens can utilize over 5,000 public use airports. I continue to believe we have a community that can work together to meet real challenges, but we need to come together now more than ever as the federal government’s role seems very much in flux.

  • Jeff Rayden


    Dear Respected AOPA,

    I am beyond shocked that AOPA has not brought suit against FAA for immediate injunctive relief to oppose the closing of the 179 or so air traffic control towers, all at general aviation airports.

     Your membership needs your support at this very instant to stop this madness.

    I fly  into and out of Whiteman (WHP). It’s compact airspace supports nearly 100,000 GA operations each year. It is also the home of a Civil Air Patrol airbase that  uses WHP for many emergency or counter drug missions. We train young cadets, your future members from this crowded airport. As a private GA pilot, I serve as a CAP / USAF Auxiliary captain, mission pilot and safety officer. I am miffed by the tower closing and concerned for the public welfare.

    WHP is under Burbank (BUR) class C airspace, adjacent to Van Nuys (VNY)and it’s class D.  VNY is the all time busiest GA airport.  WHP is within the very high density Los Angeles airspace complex. 

     On  weekends there can be a dozen or more aircraft in the pattern and approaching the airfield at one time along with a few on the ground ready to roll. Many are not familiar with or report positions properly. The airport owner, Los Angeles County, could easily fund the tower with all their resources. They could furlough a few desk jobs and avert another 1978 San Diego PSA 727 / C-172 mid air type collision or a similar 1986 Cerritos Aeromexico  DC-9 / PA-28  disaster. The later being a key factor in why the current  WHP tower was built.

    The decision to close Whiteman was part of an objective mathematical cost cutting formula.  It did not subjectively look at the airspace and dangers involved with this airport’s operations or, surely, I’d not need to write this letter.

    Where is your voice and concern for air safety now??
    This is a disaster waiting to happen at worse. At best, the decision will lead to increased infractions and airman violations.

    If you don’t immediately step up to the plate it will be clear to me and other pilots that your best interest lies not in safety,  rather than in the member dues, commissions from insurance policies, legal plan fees, and share in credit card transaction fees to support your operations, management and their benefits.

    The targeting of these GA tower closings are at the heart of the safety of tens of thousands of your members who fly in and out of the airports with towers being closed. Their operations are in the midst of millions of airline passengers every year. A mid-air accident now will subject GA to the worst public relations debacle,  awful scrutiny, more restrictions, and likeliness of user fees.

    I demand and beg that you discuss this concern with you  management this morning, get your Washington D.C. attorneys in Federal court this afternoon and file for temporary injunctive relief to protect your membership and the flying public in what we believe are your true interests of safety and the existence of general aviation.

    You should now also contact members of the Los Angeles County , and its Board of Supervisors along with their Department of Public Works  and demand they fund the WHP tower from emergency  reserve funds, and  least for the next 30 days as a stop gap measure while more can be done to bar these airport towers from closing until a proper review or legal actions undertaken. While they own and operate other airports, WHP is clearly a safety concern and serves the largest population and base of operations.

    I was the lead plaintiff in a class action suit in the 1990’s that was filed within days of monster America Online’s rash financial decision to switch from a hourly based service to a monthly flat fee. They did not do a proper review of the implications of the mass demand of their service against the current infrastructure that existed. Their key concern was in their budget and not the true interest of their members or the public at large that suffered for weeks as the internet came to a grinding halt. AOL was brought to their knees by this action paid tens of millions to the public.  This action and its relief broke the  strangle hold they held as the leading Internet service provider. My compensation for my public service was only one of millions of the $19 coupons issued by AOL and,  of course, knowing I had much to do about ceasing the unfair practices and end to the greedy management of AOL.

    This matter is of a similar nature. Objective financial concerns  of the FAA has caused a decision to be rashly implemented without apparent concern for the masses and infrastructure needed to advert a potential disaster. The AOPA is the leading public oversight organization for general aviation and has now publicly done little to effectively stop the bulling of the federal administration with this  knee jerk, short sighted dictate. After attending a public meeting hours ago with FAA, county and airport representatives is was clear that the infrastructure and policies needed have not yet been developed to assure the most safe transition to the many areas now facing untowered  operations.

    I am not a lawyer nor know much about the legal options available. However, I deeply believe that AOPA has the knowledge of the proper legal actions and resources to get this matter in to the courts… today. You can stop the closures before Sunday!

    Great consternation and grave concerns are keeping me up at night and fill my head daylong over the demise of general aviation and subsequently the effectiveness and health of AOPA over the fallout from this travesty. As such, and if needed, I’ll come out of retirement as a public plaintiff and offer my service without concern for compensation for the millions effected by the hasty decision of the FAA to enact poor public policy and AOPA of ineffectively  dealing with the matter.

    I am sure AOPA is desirous of avoiding any litigation either brought for or by its membership regarding this issue. But this issue lies the crux of AOPA’s existence and this urgent call for your duty in this mass extinction blitz of GA air services is unlike any other you have faced before. Fellow members and I pray you rise to meet this challenge now and lead us from these  crossroads with the full strength, resources, and voice of the hundreds of thousands who have empowered you and supported your many good efforts in the past.

    Very truly yours,

    Jeff Rayden
    AOPA member 02360891

    ( Contact information in your database is up to date if you desire to contact me or desire my service in this matter.)

  • Ted Klapka

    I am at a loss to understand the need for a control tower at a single runway airport. I fly from a single runway airport wedged between the DC SFRA and the Navy’s Restricted Areas. Democratic forces seem to work quite well, and when the cross wind backs to a tailwind, the takeoff lineup grows at the other end of the airport until it reaches a critical mass and there is an opening amongst those landing that then “turns” the airport.

    I wonder why the Right Pattern on Rwy 30 at WHP. It does create a hazard by having the same patch of air used for downwind on both runways. Perhaps doing away with it, or making both patterns Right handed, would make for a safer uncontrolled field.

    I am more concerned about true multi runway (as opposed to opposite ends of the same patch of concrete) airports where one can’t see the other thresholds from the other ones. The airport where I learned to fly ultimately had its luck runout in one of those “blind” takeoffs toward the same intersecting patch of concrete. Yet it still remains an uncontrolled airport.

    Times are tough and the federal government has to make choices. We need to do more with less, and be satisfied with less. We should be looking for creative solutions. Why couldn’t the Tower at Burbank or Van Nuys decide which runway should be in use at WHP, and put that on WHP’s ATIS?

    I need Bernoulli to fly, one can fly quite well without Marconi, particularly with a good set of Course Rules.