Air Traffic Control Newsletter #124

Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #124

Answering arguments against ATC corporatization; New revelations about FAA's revised controller hiring

In this issue:

New Arguments Raised Against ATC Corporation

Since last month’s issue, the effort to take the Air Traffic Organization out of the FAA and reinvent it as a self-supporting, stakeholder-governed corporation, has continued to move forward. But now that this prospect appears likely to happen, new arguments are being raised by defenders of the status quo.

On the positive side, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue May 19th. Witnesses favoring corporatization included United Airlines CEO Jeffrey Smisek representing Airlines for America (A4A), Gov. John Engler representing the Business Roundtable, and former Sen. Byron Dorgan representing the Eno Center for Transportation. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association repeated his openness to any reform alternative except a for-profit company (which no one has proposed), and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta again expressed openness to discussing restructuring, but also repeated his concerns about separating safety regulation from air traffic control. The only witness defending the status quo was Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Several weeks later, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R, PA) told the Aero Club of Washington that committee staff are drafting a bill that would convert the ATO into a federally chartered, non-profit, self-supporting ATC corporation.

What distresses me at this juncture is that despite decades of research and the highly positive track record of the more than 50 self-supporting ANSPs worldwide, in countries of all sizes, many of the arguments being made against the idea ignore all this evidence. Whether this is out of insufficient knowledge (as I’m sure is the case for some) or deliberately ignoring such information is really beside the point. Most reporters, editorial writers, and members of Congress can hardly be expected to be experts on ATC funding, governance, and culture. Thus, opponents of reform can make spurious arguments which, if they sound good to ill-informed listeners, can be very damaging. Therefore, supporters of ATC reform need to be ready to respond to such arguments, answering them with facts and logic.

Here are six arguments being aired today by opponents.

Calling it “Privatization” For example, in a 10-page opinion piece for the Center for American Progress, Kevin DeGood agrees that the term “privatization” generally means turning a government function over to a for-profit company, and acknowledges that this is on nobody’s ATC reform agenda. He nevertheless proceeds to use the term throughout his piece, as do quite a few other people. That term tends to create visceral negative reactions among various groups, including public employee unions, and certainly does not contribute to a meaningful discussion of what is actually being proposed.

“Turning ATC Over to Special Interests” In his Senate testimony, Ed Bolen referred repeatedly to “special interests” as being in charge of the proposed ATC corporation, contrasting this with the status quo in which Congress is the de-facto board of directors. All serious reform proposals call for the governing board of the new entity (whether government corporation or nonprofit corporation) to be a fully representative group of aviation stakeholders, with a fiduciary duty not to any industry body but to the best interests of the ATC corporation. This is the principle on which RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) has worked diligently and effectively to develop consensus recommendations for the FAA. People nominated by general and business aviation, the several sectors of the airline industry, airports, ATC employees, and others would constitute the stakeholder board.

Confusing Taxes with ATC Fees. DeGood clearly does not understand the current proposals, for he writes that “the new ANSP must have a steady stream of tax revenue,” and that proponents seek “to redirect the flow of trust fund revenues so that air traffic operations and procurement are fully funded by aviation taxes.” That is exactly the opposite of what proponents want, which is to make the ATO fully independent of any tax funding, to free it from micromanagement by the executive and legislative branches of government. Bolen argues that Congress must not “turn over its power to tax” to an ATC corporation, and states that this would be unconstitutional in any case. But it is clearly within the power of Congress to create a corporation able to charge fees for its services: Amtrak, the Postal Service, and the Tennessee Valley Authority all charge fees-not taxes-for the services they deliver to customers. ATC fee schedules would be worked out by the stakeholder board, and subject to appeal to an external authority, probably the DOT Secretary.

An Imagined Aviation Funding Shortfall. DeGood claims that what he calls privatization is “a bold attempt by the aviation industry to carve out operations and procurement activities along with most or all [Trust Fund] funding, while dumping responsibility for remaining FAA functions onto taxpayers.” He also mistakenly claims that ATC is only 50% of the FAA budget (in fact, it is about 63%) and that the general fund covers 30% of the FAA budget (it was 17% in FY 2014 and only 7.2% in FY 2015)-but his erroneous numbers create the impression of a huge funding gap for airports and FAA’s safety regulatory activities. In fact, ATC reformers favor shifting full support of ATC from taxes to fees paid directly to the corporation. They also support retaining an aviation excise tax to pay for all or part of AIP grants (22% of FAA budget), and most favor general fund support for FAA safety and miscellaneous functions (15% of the FAA budget).

Conflating User Fees and User Taxes. Several groups invoke the specter of the Obama Administration’s proposed $100/flight “user fee” as an example of what they fear. That was not a user fee; it was at best a proposed user tax. A user tax is paid to the government, deposited in the Treasury, and can only be spent if authorized and then appropriated by Congress. By contrast, a true user fee is a charge for service-like the bills sent out by TVA for the electricity that customers use. The Alliance for Aviation Across America worries that the new ATC corporation would charge fees for every take-off and landing, raising the cost of flying for business and general aviation serving smaller and rural communities. By now, everyone should know that corporation proponents favor a fee schedule similar to Nav Canada’s, in which piston GA planes pay a small annual fee (under $100 for most)-period. Business jets do pay weight-based ATC fees, but the Canadian Business Aviation Association is a big fan of Nav Canada, and considers the fees it pays to be good value, considering the improved service they receive. Exactly what and how business jets would pay here is a matter for the stakeholder board to determine-and business aviation will have a seat at that table.

Relinquishing Control Over the Rules of the Air. The recent Congressional Research Service report raising constitutional questions about an ATC corporation was premised on a false assumption: that Congress would delegate to the corporation the power to decide on procedures, equipage, and other rules of the airspace. That misses the whole point about arm’s-length separation between safety regulation (inherently governmental, not delegable) and carrying out the operation and management of the 24/7 service business of ATC (which can and already is being delegated-e.g., flight service stations and contract towers). Bolen’s testimony raised the specter of the ATC corporation having the “sweeping authority to determine . . . who will have access to airspace and who will get shut out.” And DeGood claims that “Privatizing air traffic operations and procurement would mean relinquishing control over many of these collective decisions and rules.” No it wouldn’t.

Incidentally, a succinct but detailed response to DeGood’s piece was posted by Rui Neva, the ATC specialist at the Eno Transportation Center last month. Go to https://www.enotrans.org/eno-brief/a-few-clarifications-about-air-traffic-control-reform. Highly recommended.

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New Revelations re FAA’s Revised Controller Hiring

An explosive documentary on FAA’s use of a Biographical Questionnaire as the initial screening device for would-be air traffic controller trainees alleges that FAA employees enabled minority applicants to cheat, by providing them with “correct” answers to give on the unsupervised BQ, as well as suggesting changes to make on their resumes to increase their odds of being selected. “Trouble in the Skies” was researched over a six-month period by Fox Business Network reporter Adam Shapiro and colleagues, and aired May 20th. A complete transcript can be downloaded from: http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2015/05/20/trouble-in-skies.

I have previously reported that the FAA Human Resources Dept. persuaded higher-ups in 2013 that then-current hiring practices-extending a preference to former military controllers and graduates of 30-odd FAA-sanctioned Collegiate Training Institute (CTI) colleges and universities-ended up with “too few” minorities and women in the applicant pool. In December of that year, the FAA disqualified about 3,000 such people who had already taken and passed the detailed, eight-hour controller aptitude test (called AT-SAT) and announced that they would all have to re-apply along with an unlimited number of “off-the-street” candidates. All would have to take the new Biographical Questionnaire (unsupervised, on their personal computers), and only those who passed it would be eligible to enter controller training. Large numbers of previously-accepted CTI graduates took the BQ and were subsequently told they failed and could therefore not enter training.

None of that information is new. What is new, thanks to Shapiro’s reporting, is a recording provided by CTI graduate Moranda Reilly, provided to her and other members of the National Black Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees (NBCFAE), which she had recently been urged to join on grounds that it would increase her chances of being hired. The voice message came from FAA employee Shelton Snow, president of NBCFAE’s suburban Washington, DC chapter. The recording (played on the broadcast) said Snow would be sending her (and other applicants) screen shots “so you will know which icons to select” when taking the BQ. “I am about 99 point 99 percent sure that it is exactly what you need to answer each question in order to get through the first stage.” Reilly also said that Snow conducted workshops showing NBCFAE associate members the correct answers to select on the BQ, and key words to include on their resumes. Reilly told reporter Shapiro that she did not cheat-and ended up failing the BQ.

Shapiro did further digging, finding reports by human factors researcher Dana Broach, PhD, of the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City. His October 2014 analysis of controller training outcomes by recruiting source found that “Overall, larger proportions . . . of CTI hires achieved CPC (Certified Professional Controller) status than did general public hires.” Another Broach report, “Using Biodata to Select Air Traffic Controllers,” finds that “the evidence for using these biodata items for controller selection is weak.” According to Shapiro, “the FAA refused to let Broach talk to FoxBusiness.”

Reilly’s attorney, representing several CTI graduates who failed the BQ, has filed a complaint with the FAA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and may sue the FAA if they can obtain class action status. And Shapiro reported on June 22nd that FAA has denied a Freedom of Information Act request by one of the CTI students for information on “the empirical validation of the biographical assessment.” The agency also says that for its 2015 recruiting, it has replaced the 2014 BQ with a new version.

Shapiro’s reporting is having consequences. In addition to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Jason Riley, “Affirmative Action Lands in the Air Traffic Control Tower” (June 2, 2015), the DOT Office of the Inspector General has initiated an audit of the process the FAA is now using to recruit new controllers, as well as the allegations about answers being provided to certain applicants. And these new developments will likely increase support in Congress for the Air Traffic Controllers Hiring Act of 2015, which would eliminate the BQ and return to the previous qualifications-based hiring process. The measure has bipartisan co-sponsors, including Reps. Randy Hultgren (R, IL), Dan Lipinski (D, IL), Vicky Hartzler (R, MO), Cheri Bustos (D, IL), Matt Salmon (R, AZ), Tim Ryan (D, OH), and Keith Rothfus (R, PA). Hultgren is urging Transportation & Infrastructure chairman Bill Shuster (R, PA) to hold a hearing on FAA’s hiring practices.

This episode is another sorry example of how politicized our ATC system has become. I cannot imagine anything like this happening in any country where ATC is run by a corporation dedicated to serving its aviation customers.

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Spurious Claims About Nav Canada’s Charges

All over the world, except in the USA, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) charge airlines ICAO-blessed fees for their services. En-route charges are based on aircraft gross weight and distance flown, while terminal charges are based on gross weight alone. Those charges are normal operating expenses to airlines, along with airport landing fees, fuel, parking, etc. Unlike in the United States, where the federal ticket tax and segment fee are itemized as part of the ticket price, airlines don’t break out their miscellaneous operating expenses; they just list the airfare, which (if they are well-managed), covers their costs and permits some degree of profit.

Except for Air Canada. Ever since the ATC function was separated from Transport Canada in 1996 and began to charge fees for its services (instead of the former Canadian ticket tax, which went away), this airline has added a per-passenger charge to its tickets, arrived at by dividing the per-flight ATC fee by the average number of passengers, and labeling it a “Nav Canada charge.” This has led some people to think that ATC somehow costs more in Canada than it does elsewhere, where no such charges appear on people’s tickets. Indeed, on one aviation forum earlier this month, someone posted Air Canada’s “Nav Canada surcharge” for a typical short-haul A320 flight and suggested that this accounted for why Canadian airfares are generally higher (per mile) than those in the United States.

So I once again queried my sources at Nav Canada to get the straight story. They provided figures for U.S. and Canadian flights of comparable distances: Toronto-Ottawa (226 mi.) and Washington-New York (213 mi.). For an A320 flight within Canada, the actual Nav Canada ATC charge to the airline would be $1,385, which (at 85% load factor) works out to $11.17 per passenger. For the DCA to JFK flight, the ticket tax and segment fee (again based on 85% load factor) total $4,190-or $33.79 per passenger. That is three times as much as in Canada. But to make it a fair comparison, the U.S. number needs to be adjusted, because aviation excise taxes in the United States cover more than just air traffic control.

Here’s my calculation, using FY 2014 FAA budget numbers. The aviation tax deposited in the Trust Fund was $13.18 billion (out of a total FAA budget of $15.89 billion). The capital and operating costs of the ATC system were $10.07 billion, equal to 76% of the user-tax revenue. So we need to multiply the previous per-passenger number by 76% to get the amount each passenger paid for U.S. ATC services. That number is $25.82. Instead of being three times as much as what Canadian passengers pay, it is only 2.3 times as much. But that still makes air traffic services in Canada a great value compared with those of the United States.

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Controller-Pilot Data Link (CPDLC), 25 Years Late

You probably read one or more breathless mass-media stories on May 22 or thereabouts, as FAA announced the completion of two years of testing of transmitting pre-departure clearances (PDCs) from control towers at Memphis and Newark to cockpit flight management systems (FMSs) of passenger and cargo planes waiting to push back at those two airports. A great step forward for NextGen! The wave of the future arriving today! And soon to be rolled out to three more airports by year-end: Houston Hobby, Houston Intercontinental, and Salt Lake City. And by the end of 2016, it will be in place at 56 airports.

What you almost certainly did not read was the reaction of a whole cadre of ATC experts, such as one that was shared with me on May 22nd:

“FAA finally is implementing a basic Data Link service, for trajectory exchange between aircraft FMSs and [air traffic services] . . . and only 25 years after we already developed it, proved it, and implemented it with FANS 1, for the entire rest of the world’s use, even making it standard in long-range fleets.”

Another expert recounted finalizing the FANS 1 installation for then-new Boeing 777s-in 1994.

I related the story of how FANS 1 came about, as the first of seven case studies on how FAA’s status-quo culture has held back many promising innovations in air traffic management, in my 2014 Reason/Hudson study, “Organization and Innovation in Air Traffic Control.” (/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/air_traffic_control_organization_innovation.pdf) Another newsletter reader wrote that “When I was working on FANS 1 [at FAA], we heard that turning off HOST [the former en-route software system, replaced this year by ERAM] was ‘about to occur.’ I left the FANS 1 team in 1996, and the Australian system which incorporated the FANS 1 technology was commissioned in 1998. The tender for its replacement has just been awarded. That says it all for the FAA procurement and implementation process.”

If you read John Croft’s Aviation Daily story on the FAA’s announcement (May 27th), you will learn that pre-departure clearance digital messaging for many years has been provided at 73 U.S. airports to the more than 700 US jetliners that are equipped with FANS 1A. But those airports’ control tower systems need to be upgraded to add the ability to send last-minute changes to PDCs digitally, rather than by voice. That is the change that will reach 56 of these towers by the end of 2016, if the roll-out stays on schedule.

There is no question that digital PDCs save time and reduce errors, compared with voice communication by radio. And those benefits will be far greater when controller-pilot data-link (CPDLC) is rolled out to the FAA’s 20 en-route centers. Unfortunately, that is not scheduled to happen until 2021. Meanwhile, Nav Canada has implemented en-route CPDLC nationwide and across the North Atlantic.

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Delivery Drones and Air Traffic Control

After a very slow start, the safety regulatory side of FAA has recently accelerated its efforts to enable large-scale testing of small unmanned aerial systems (UASs). Spurred on especially by the efforts of Amazon and Google to develop “delivery drones,” FAA this spring has approved nearly 500 small UAS operators under a section of the law that allows it to waive normal airworthiness requirements for “low-risk” operations. It has also given approved operators the authority to fly their UASs anywhere in the country below 200 ft., except within restricted airspace, near airports, or in major cities. And these operations are still limited to daylight and line-of-site control by the operator.

But getting to the kind of large-scale drone delivery services that both Amazon and Google envision will require far more than that. It will need some form of air traffic control in low-altitude airspace where radar coverage is problematic. Leading the way on looking into this is NASA Ames Research Center, conveniently located in Silicon Valley. Its largest known project in this area is a joint effort with Verizon to explore the use of cell towers for communications and surveillance of low-altitude UASs. Initial testing is planned for this summer, according to a June 3rd article in The Guardian. The publication obtained documents about the agreement via a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. NASA Ames held a workshop last fall, inviting industry participation and cost-sharing. Of the telecom companies attending, only Verizon stepped forward. It is the country’s largest cell tower operator (with 12-15,000 of them) and has the most extensive 4G network.

The Guardian also reported that NASA Ames has also signed contracts with Amazon ($1.8 million) and Google ($450,000) to test their UAS delivery drones at Ames. NASA will organize the field trials and will conduct “mishap investigations,” as needed, according to what The Guardian learned from the contracts.

There is certainly potential for delivery drones, but I’m amazed at the lack of critical scrutiny of some of the hype being put forth by Google, in particular. Aviation Week recently interviewed Dave Vos, head of Google’s Project Wing, who suggests a near-term future in which people summon a drone via smartphone, and 5 minutes later a UAS shows up with a cold beer. As reported without comment by Graham Warwick, Vos “cites other examples, from delivering a burger to the park, snake-bite antidote to a hiking trail, a forgotten passport to the airport”-all kinds of things that could make UASs “part of our daily lives.” Google’s vision, Warwick reports, “is a system that will deliver small packages anywhere within a 5-mile radius within 5 minutes of placing an order, excluding preparation time . . . within 5 years.”

That vision strikes me as very problematic. I once arrived at LAX for a trip to Europe with what turned out to be an expired passport. My current passport was in a drawer in my office at home. Fortunately, my girlfriend (now my wife) had a key to the house, and was able to drive there, retrieve the passport, and bring it to me at LAX. But since passports are normally kept under lock and key, how is a delivery drone supposed to retrieve it? Likewise, anything that could be delivered within a 5-mile radius (ignoring 5 minutes for now) requires a delivery center that stocks a huge number of items. Does Google envision blanketing every large metro area with such delivery centers? Amazon’s current logistics model depends on a growing number of massive delivery centers at strategic locations around the country, but there are only about 50 of them, not even one for each of the 100 largest urbanized areas.

So excuse me if I take projections of a billion-dollar near-term drone delivery market with a few large grains of salt.

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FAA Forecast Numbers Turn Up, Slightly

The FAA released its annual Aerospace Forecast several months ago, and it projects slightly faster aviation growth than previous forecasts. That may be surprising, because for the past decade or so, each year’s 20-year forecast has been more rosy than the actual recent growth (or lack of same) that occurred. It always seemed to be a case of “robust aviation growth is just around the corner”-only aviation never seemed to reach that corner. But with last year’s figures turning up for airlines, at least, this year’s forecast may be closer to reality than those of previous years.

My interest is primarily in projected growth in ATC activity, which FAA projects separately for Towers, TRACONs, and Centers. In each case, this is broken down by user category: airlines, air taxi, general (& business) aviation, and military. Overall projected Tower activity growth from 2014 to 2035 is 0.9%/year, with a 2.7% annual airline growth rate offsetting a decline in air taxi operations, modest 0.4% annual GA growth, and zero military growth.

Growth in TRACON activity is projected to average 1.1%/year, with a similar pattern of high airline growth offsetting declines or very slow growth in other sectors. Likewise for Center flight activity, with 1.5% annual growth overall, with airlines again setting the pace.

A couple of caveats are worth noting. First, whereas all previous forecasts since 2000 have used that year as the starting point for historical data, this year’s forecast uses 2001, when air traffic was depressed in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. This makes any comparison of end-year (2035) traffic look like higher growth from the historical starting year, compared with using high-activity 2000. If you dig out 2000 figures and compare them with the projections for 2035, you will find that there is overall growth only in Center activity; Tower activity in 2035 is projected to be 12.7% less than occurred in 2000, and TRACON activity 11.2% less.

Second, this year’s forecast includes an Appendix B on “FAA Forecast Accuracy.” It notes that numbers in FAA’s forecast depend on underlying factors such as projections of GDP, passenger enplanements, and similar parameters developed by others. A table compares the mean absolute percent error of five such factors (over periods of one to five years) with the forecasts’ projection of center traffic. In every case but one, the center traffic percent error was significantly greater than the error in the underlying factors, and the errors were all in the direction of overly optimistic forecasts.

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Upcoming Event

Air Traffic Control: Symposium on Organizational Reform Options, Transportation Research Board, July 7, 2015, National Academy of Sciences Building, Washington, DC. (Robert Poole speaking). Details at: http://www.trb.org/PolicyStudies/Blank6.aspx.

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News Notes

Aviation Week Guest Editorial. My favorite aviation publication, Aviation Week & Space Technology, last month invited me to write a guest editorial on ATC reform. My piece, titled “Culture is Key to Aviation Reform,” appeared in the magazine’s May 25/June 7 issue. It is posted at the Reason.org website: http://reason.org/news/show/culture-is-key-to-fixing-air-traffi.

Aireon Signs Agreement with Airways New Zealand. Continuing a slew of agreements with ANSPs around the globe, space-based ADS-B provider Aireon announced on June 15 a Memorandum of Understanding with Airways New Zealand. Under its terms, the two organizations will investigate the deployment of space-based ADS-B in New Zealand’s domestic and oceanic airspace. Airways New Zealand’s two flight information regions comprise 30 million square kilometers of airspace.

Shared Services Definition Under Way in Europe. The European Commission has awarded funding for projects to define the best models for providing two Europe-wide ATC support services: Pan-European Network Services (PENS) and Data Link Services (DLS). Eurocontrol and the A6 Alliance (comprising six large ANSPs) will carry out both studies, with A6 member NATS in the lead on PENS and DFS heading up DLS. Shared services are intended to yield economies of scale in providing such services to all ANSPs that are part of the Single European Sky effort.

Nav Canada and Airports Group Collaborate on Public Engagement. The Canadian Airports Council and Nav Canada this month announced a protocol aimed at improved consultations with communities affected by changes in flight paths for airport approaches and departures. The “Airspace Change Communications and Consultation Protocol” is intended to improve dialogue and consideration of community noise issues in the design of new flight paths, according to Nav Canada CEO John Crichton. The protocol was developed by the two organizations, with inputs from airlines, at the request of Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

TV Signals Tested as Alternative to Radar. A two-year demonstration project carried out in the U.K. by the British ANSP NATS and contractors Thales ATM UK and Roke Manor tested whether ordinary television broadcast signals could be used to track aircraft in flight in the same way as radar. As reported by CANSO (June 10, 2015), both trials-one over London and a second over Liverpool-are considered successful, with specialized receivers able to track airborne targets in the same way as primary radar. Assuming further work validates the concept, the implications could be profound: a possible back-up for GPS, or a possible replacement for spectrum-hogging primary radar. But this, of course, assumes that broadcast television continues in the future.

Paper Flight Strips Remain with ERAM. In a good overview (Airspace, Quarter 2, 2015) of the excellent collaboration among developer Lockheed Martin, controllers, and technicians that led to the implementation of the new software ERAM at all 20 en-route centers, ATO Chief Operating Officer Teri Bristol used as one of her illustrations that “ERAM was producing paper flight strips in a format that some terminal facilities did not find helpful. We made changes so that the flight strips would look more like the ones produced by the previous automation system.” To be sure, ERAM is a major improvement over the obsolete HOST system it replaced. But retaining paper flight strips? And bragging about it? Give me a break!

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Quotable Quotes

“I was up last week visiting [Nav Canada] in Ottawa, and looking at their technical center. And the unique thing they do is that they have a true collaboration from the position of developing their next-gen technology. They have the air traffic controller, the engineer, and the manufacturer working together from the conceptual state all the way through to training, implementation, and deployment within their facilities. And what that does is it saves time and money. And they actually are developing probably the best equipment out there, and they are selling it around the world. And they are doing it in a 30-month to three-year time frame, when we have to look much longer down the road because of our procurement process in this country.”
-Paul Rinaldi, President of NATCA, during Q&A portion of Senate Commerce Committee hearing on air traffic control, May 20, 2015

“With an FAA reauthorization bill due in September, Bill Shuster (R, PA), the House transportation committee chairman, says the time is ripe for a structural overhaul. The centerpiece would be to spin air traffic control off to a new corporate entity outside of the FAA, leaving the agency to concentrate on its safety-regulation role. Other countries, such as Canada and Britain have taken that approach, the main virtue of which would be to get politics out of the funding of air traffic control operations and the NextGen upgrade. The proposed corporation would instead levy charges on the system’s various users according to presumably more objective, business-like criteria. At least that’s the theory-and it’s a good one. . . . That doesn’t mean, however, that the various interests involved-unionized controllers, private-jet owners, rural airports-won’t continue to argue about who should pay for what, and how much. As long as those conflicts can be settled within the board of the proposed new corporation, well and good. If a new structure leaves stakeholders free to take their grievances to Congress, however, there won’t be much point to it. FAA reform is a worthy and, possibly, attainable goal. Actually achieving better governance, though, will depend on getting the details right.”
-Editorial Board, “Revamping the FAA,” The Washington Post, May 20, 2015

“Beginning with New Zealand in 1987, dozens of countries have opted for a model that separates air traffic management from government aviation roles like ensuring safety. Whether they truly privatized air traffic control (ATC) or ‘corporatized’ it, the arm’s length from government bureaucracies and political tinkering has led to more financial stability, technological nimbleness, and responsiveness to the needs of airspace users. Even ICAO, the U.N.’s ever-cautious International Civil Aviation Organization, recommends that countries ‘consider the establishment of autonomous entities to operate air navigation services.’ . . . The devil may be in the details, to be sure. Airports, for example, will scream if the Airport Improvement Program funding mechanism were to fall by the wayside as user fees replace ticket taxes. But moving decidedly toward an independent entity for air traffic management is the right direction for the U.S. to go.”
-Editorial Board, “Get Moving on ATC Reform,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, May 25-June 7, 2015

“While it may be true that having both provision and safety regulation of a given service housed together may bring some efficiencies, there is little evidence for this claim and substantial international consensus on the potential for conflict of interest when it comes to ATC. This conflict of interest has been apparent in the U.S. for decades, and internationally measures have been taken to attempt to solve it by removing ATC provision from safety regulation. A recent MITRE study suggests that not only did such separation outside the U.S. not bring any harm, but in fact it proved quite successful in bringing a better culture of safety for everyone involved.”
-Jeff Davis, “ETW Issue Overview: Separating ATC Provision from Safety Regulation,” Eno Transportation Weekly, 21 May 2015

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Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.