Out of Control Policy Blog

Congestion where you least expect it

Another great article on the antiquated air traffic control system in the United States. Contrary to what most people would expect, the skies are far from being open or a free for all. In fact, most flights follow very limited highways in the sky.

Yet one fundamental shortcoming in the nation's air-traffic system has gone little discussed: the federal map of routes, largely unchanged since the 1950s, that airplanes are required to follow.

Just like rush-hour freeways on the ground, the nation's airways, particularly on the East Coast, have become choked with traffic. Block one with a small thunderstorm and jets sit on the ground waiting for hours because there's no room for them on other routes.

Just as people are starting to see congestion pricing as a solution for airport capacity shortages (it's hard to believe that this is still considered radical for roads in some quarters), perhaps congestion pricing for these "highways of the sky" may be a good idea. Perhaps a system of escalating user fees for the more clogged air routes could solve this. See Reason's work on this here.

Benjamin Dachis is Policy Analyst


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