Privatizing Air Traffic Control
In the oil and gas industry, you need to be able to get places fast – to deliver parts, serve customers, and handle any crises. Our company, Justiss Oil, is a family-operated oil & gas drilling and exploration company based in Jena, Louisiana that has been working across the southern US for almost 70 years. Our success in the industry comes from our ability to operate efficiently using our aircraft. We need the flexibility to transport our management to meetings on short notice, maintain their productivity levels, and keep our rigs operational with minimal down time. To compete against multibillion-dollar corporations with seemingly unlimited resources, we have to be nimble, and leverage our resources wisely. This could not happen without access to our own aircraft.
A drilling rig costs tens of thousands of dollars a day to operate. Just one day of down time can have an enormous economic impact on the success of an oil well. On one particular occasion we had a turbo unit break down in Winnie, Texas and no one had a replacement part within driving distance. Our mechanics had a part in Nevada, so we dispatched our King Air B200 to retrieve it and deliver it to the site. Within about six hours, the rig was operational again, and the client was very pleased with how quickly we were able to respond.
I have been flying since I was about five years old. My father was a pilot in Vietnam and flew for our local Civil Air Patrol in New Hampshire. He inspired me to take to the skies and follow my dreams of being an aviator. After a tour in the US Navy as an Aircrewman and Combat Rescue Swimmer, I put myself through flight school and college. Since, I’ve served in numerous capacities in the aviation field from pilot to Director of Flight Operations.
In Louisiana, general aviation airports contribute more than $966 million to the state’s economy annually and support over 9,300 jobs. General aviation not only supports businesses and economic activity across the state, it helps facilitate critical services like disaster response, law enforcement, and emergency medical care.
Having the flexibility to be where we need to be on our schedule is critical to our success in this business. However, this could very well be in jeopardy because the US Congress is considering giving a not-for-profit private entity the management and air traffic control duties of our national airspace. It would be run by a board of directors made up of industry representatives, many whom would be from the airline industry. While this sounds like a good idea in theory, as we all know, many ideas born out of Washington, DC are not.
Currently our air traffic control system is overseen by Congress which guarantees that our system serves airports, businesses, and communities of all sizes – not just those at big, hub airports. While it’s not perfect, it is by far the most efficient and well-run air space in the world. A private system run by stakeholders in the industry could jeopardize that equal access.
We don’t need to look very far to see examples of a privatized system. Most countries in Europe have a privatized air system and it has all but decimated their general aviation industry. Large numbers of European pilots come to the United States for flight training to avoid the high cost. With so many concerns about a pilot shortage, we should not do anything to jeopardize our robust aviation system. Our air traffic control system is, by many accounts, one of the things we do well and it currently ensures that we serve businesses, airports and communities of all sizes. Let’s keep it that way.
Patrick Newcomb is the Director of Flight Operations and Chief Pilot for Justiss Oil Company