American Airlines CEO Doug Parker

Updated from 6:45 a.m. EDT

The U.S. airline industry reiterated its strong support earlier this week for its principal Washington cause: privatizing the nation's aging, inefficient, air traffic control system and removing it from the Congressional budgeting process.

"We need to get ATC reform done," said American Airlines (AAL - Get Report) CEO Doug Parker, speaking at industry lobbying group Airlines for America's annual summit. "There is no way we're giving up the fight for sensible reform."

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly declared that "the {industry's} No. 1 issue is the air traffic control system," and several other airline CEOs voiced their agreement.

Yet despite all the unity, the effort seems challenged, with little apparent change since ATC reform was left out of the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that Congress approved in July.

Delta (DAL - Get Report) , the world's second-largest airline, remains opposed to privatization. The A4A doesn't seem positioned to win additional hearts and minds in Washington, despite spending millions on airline image advertising and $3.8 million on hard-charging Republican CEO Nick Calio's annual salary.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that Democrats including Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee, oppose an ATC spinoff. While the National Air Traffic Controllers Association back the spinoff, various unions including the International Association of Machinists are opposed.

It probably isn't a stretch to suggest that Calio's tenure as CEO will be judged largely on whether ATC is privatized on his watch.

Part of of A4A's strategy has been to rely on the close relationship between Calio and Rep. Bill Shuster, (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the primary congressional backer of an ATC spinoff.

The relationship comes with image problems, largely because Shelly Rubino, an A4A vice president and lobbyist, is Shuster's girlfriend, a well-known subject of Washington chatter, which is not diminished by a publicly stated agreement that Rubino will not lobby Shuster.

In February, Politico posted a story, "Shuster lounges poolside with airline lobbyists as he pursues FAA bill." A subhead read: "It's the latest example of the transportation committee chairman's coziness with the airline industry."

The story reported that Calio, Shuster and Rubino "lounged by the pool and dined together during festivities tied to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's (R-Fla.) annual weekend fundraising trip" to Miami Beach.

The airline industry may or may not be concerned by the optics, but it obviously is not pleased with the lack of results.

After Calio introduced Parker as his boss on Tuesday, Parker drew laughs by declaring, "If I am, you're not well supervised."

Every industry should have a leader as engaging as Parker, who also strayed from his script and drew laughter when he imitated former Delta CEO Richard Anderson as he quoted from a 2012 speech in which Anderson discussed how airlines must pad their schedules to allow for ATC delays.

'Delta's block time in 1956 flying between Atlanta and Washington National in a DC-6 was the same as it is today on a 757-200," Anderson said, and Parker repeated. "So our scheduled flight time hasn't changed between Atlanta and DCA since I was one-year-old.'"

Subsequently, Parker added, "I'm not making fun of Richard Anderson -- I understand he may be part of the {next} administration."

Parker later said he was kidding and has no specific knowledge of Anderson's future plans.

On Thursday, Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter reiterated the carrier's position, declaring that A4A "has shown no evidence that privatizing air traffic control would do anything to actually improve U.S. airspace.

"Delta does not oppose reform," Banstetter said. "But we do oppose privatization and upheaval, which is really what Parker and A4A are advocating. "

As for the 2012 remarks, "Richard's point is as valid today as it was in 2012," Banstetter said. "The nation's air traffic system needs to be modernized through next generation technologies and procedures. That process is underway and already showing benefits.

"The A4A proposal to take the nation's air traffic control system away from the FAA and put it in private hands puts that modernization at risk," he said.

A4A spokeswoman Jean Medina said Friday that without modernization, the ATC system "is unable to grow, and may in fact shrink, which benefits no one.

"The need for modernization has never been more clear or had more widespread support," she said. "We continue to advocate for a better system free from the constraints of funding and governance challenges for the 2.2 million people and 50,000 tons of cargo that fly every day."

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.