Small town airports concerned over air traffic control privatization

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HURON, S.D. The Trump administration is trying to privatize air traffic control in the United States, but this could have a big impact on South Dakota's airports. Some rural airports around the state are worried if these changes go through.

Air traffic control privatization benefits major air carriers. These larger airlines want situations where they can control how much or how many resources get devoted to each area. "In the case of most major airlines, they want that resource directed towards their largest hubs - New York, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta," City of Huron Airport Manager Larry Cooper said.

Privatization would have a major effect on South Dakota's rural airports. If resources, like air traffic, tower and terminal controllers, aren't available in these small towns, people that want to fly into the state won't be able to. There would be no one around to handle their flight and scheduling of them coming into the state.

"I'm afraid with privatization of the air traffic control system that it's just going to be for the airlines and it's going to be very detrimental for general aviation," Skyways LTD Owner and Operator Danny Hofer said.

Small town airports in South Dakota are struggling. Since the deregulation of airlines, Mitchell, Yankton, Brookings and Huron lost their airline service and some aviation officials don't see an end in sight.

"There's going to be a day where you don't hardly see an airline flight here in South Dakota if it keeps going the way it is and that includes Sioux Falls and Rapid City at some point in time," Hofer said.

It would be hard to keep airline services in South Dakota with the low amount of traffic that comes through compared to other states.

"There's a lot of cities in the United States that board more people annually than the whole state of South Dakota does, so when it comes to delegating resources, South Dakota is going to fall way down on the list," Cooper said.

South Dakota airport managers are encouraging residents to get informed about the air traffic control issue and contact their local representatives so they can bring real opinions to the matter in Washington D.C.

"Places like South Dakota should most definitely be interested in it because we're going to be one of the states that loses the most if that system gets privatized," Cooper said.

The FAA funding ends on September 30, which is also the end of the federal government's fiscal year. Experts believe a short-term extension will go into place to get the re-authorization figured out.