Air Traffic Control Newsletter #130
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Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #130

House bill calls for Nav Canada type nonprofit corporation | Inspector General on failed FAA reforms

In this issue:

House Bill Calls for Nav Canada Type Nonprofit ATC Corporation

After telegraphing their intent to do so for the past half year, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R, PA) and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Frank LoBiondo (R, NJ) have introduced their six-year FAA reauthorization bill, including a long section detailing the transformation of the current Air Traffic Organization into a self-supporting nonprofit ATC Corporation. Details of the corporation and the transition process constitute Title II of the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (the AIRR Act), released February 3rd. A hearing to discuss the bill and the ATC Corporation is set for February 10th.

As promised, the ATC Corporation is a U.S. adaptation of the nonprofit, self-supporting, stakeholder-governed Nav Canada, which has transformed air traffic control north of the border and across the North Atlantic in its two decades of experience. It would be federally chartered (like the American Red Cross and the U.S. Olympic Committee), with all the normal powers and duties of a public utility. Like user-governed co-ops that provide electricity, telecommunications, and water supply in much of America, it would not need economic regulation because the rate-payers would have strong representation on the governing board. The FAA would become the arm’s-length safety regulator, in accord with ICAO standards that went into effect more than a decade ago. Since it would not receive any federal tax money, it would be insulated from all the constraints of the government budget process. That would also enable it to issue revenue bonds for major capital improvements, just as airports have long been able to do.

While this would be a big change to a key portion of the U.S. aviation system, it is hardly the radical change that opponents are claiming by dubbing it “privatization.” Groups like the National Business Aviation Association, Delta Airlines, and the gaggle of left-wing groups that have just formed Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization all use the P word to frighten people. “Privatization” implies either selling a government enterprise to a for-profit company (e.g., privatization of Conrail) or contracting out a government function to such a company (e.g., outsourcing of FAA Flight Service Stations). What the AIRR Act proposes instead for the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization is reform in place. The same people would go home one day as government employees and come back to work the next day as ATC Corporation employees, with the same union contracts, the same pension benefits, and the same jobs. All that would be different are the funding system, the governance mechanism (stakeholder board), and some of the top management. That is not “privatization” in any meaningful sense of the term.

Speaking of the stakeholder board, here is how the bill proposes to create a workable balance. It calls for an 11-member board of directors, consisting of the CEO plus the following members appointed by designated aviation stakeholders:

  • 2 appointed by the Secretary of Transportation, presumably representing the traveling public;
  • 4 appointed by the primary airline trade group;
  • 2 appointed by the primary organization for general and business aviation;
  • 1 appointed by the primary air traffic controllers’ organization; and,
  • 1 appointed by the largest airline pilots’ organization.

All board members would be required by law to owe a fiduciary duty to the best interests of the ATC Corporation, rather than to the group that appointed them.

NBAA and its allies have made a lot of noise claiming that the board would be dominated by “special interests,” by which they seem to mean the airlines. But four out of 11 seats is hardly a recipe for domination (and don’t expect the pilots’ union appointee to be in lockstep with airline interests!) So that argument will now be far less credible.

The other hobby horse of the coalition of general and business aviation groups that has questioned corporatization has been the specter of unaffordable ATC user fees. AOPA and NBAA have raised tons of money over the years to protect their members from this menace. But the legs have been cut out from under them by Shuster and LoBiondo, since the bill explicitly exempts both piston GA and “non-commercial” turbine GA from paying any fees, even the very modest flat annual charge that piston GA pilots pay to Nav Canada. Without that to rail against, what substantive argument do the GA groups have left?

In terms of stakeholder influence I think the most important development occurred within an hour or so of the bill’s unveiling on Feb. 3rd. Controllers’ union NATCA released a statement by President Paul Rinaldi endorsing the plan set forth in the bill as good for the country and good for NATCA’s membership. Rinaldi, Vice President Trish Gilbert, and other senior officials have been actively engaged in discussions of this subject for the past three years-with the Business Roundtable project, with the Eno Center project, and with Aviation Subcommittee staffers developing the bill. They have also visited Nav Canada, and done their own due diligence about how its transformation, and several others, have worked out for controllers and other employees. NATCA’s carefully considered support should help make this subject worth serious consideration by Democrats in Congress-and by the Administration.

The introduction of a very good bill is a milestone-but it’s still a long way from enactment. We can expect a spirited debate over the next several months. But an idea that was first proposed in the 1970s by Glen A. Gilbert, the “father of air traffic control,” is closer to realization than ever before.

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Inspector General Documents Failures of FAA Reform

Opponents of ATC corporatization continue to pretend that the status quo is working pretty well, especially in implementing new technologies and procedures that are part of the NextGen modernization. That position increasingly lacks credibility, as anyone who has been reading audit reports from the Government Accountability Office and the DOT Office of Inspector General knows full well. The latest Inspector General report is pretty devastating. “FAA Reforms Have Not Achieved Expected Cost, Efficiency, and Modernization Outcomes,” is Report Number AV-2016-015, issued January 15th and available on the Oig.dot.gov website.

The report reminds us that Congress has legislated two decades of reforms, aiming to make the current organization work better. These include personnel and procurement reform in 1995, a new accounting system to keep better track of costs, organizational reform 2000-2004 that created the Air Traffic Organization, and NextGen reorganizations in 2011 that included a Chief NextGen Officer and a Program Management Office. But despite all this, the report concludes that “Major projects continue to experience problems that delay the introduction of new technologies such as performance-based navigation, postpone benefits to users, and defer the retirement of costly legacy systems.”

Here is a set of major headings in the report, each backed up by details and examples that I don’t have space to include here.

  • “FAA’s reforms have not slowed cost growth or improved operational productivity.”
  • “FAA has not effectively leveraged its reform flexibilities [or] adopted business practices.”
  • “Management problems continue to impact FAA’s efforts to deliver new technologies and capabilities.”
  • “FAA reports improved performance, but it does not account for long-term cost and schedule performance results.”
  • “Persistent management weaknesses underlie cost, schedule, and performance problems in delivering new technologies and expected benefits.”

And it concludes that, despite two decades of reform effort, FAA “continues to experience many of the same planning and management problems associated with implementing new programs and introducing new technologies, including projects critical to implementing NextGen.”

One consequence of these institutional failings is rising costs and declining productivity. The report notes that between 1996 and 2012 the FAA’s budget increased by 95%, and its Operations account (which is mostly ATC) by 108%. The workforce, including controller numbers, was roughly constant over this time period. But in terms of bang for the buck, that additional operating cost yielded not higher productivity but just the opposite. Annual operations per controller in terminal airspace decreased by 24.5% over this decade and a half, and operations per controller in en-route airspace decreased by 16.1%.

The study that I did for the Hudson Institute, “Organization and Innovation in Air Traffic Control,” compared technology modernization by the FAA with similar efforts in countries with corporatized ATC providers. My thesis is that the organizational culture at FAA-not funding or micromanagement per se-is the root cause of FAA’s shortcomings. You simply cannot run a high-tech, 24/7 service business from inside of a tax-funded, politically governed bureaucracy. That’s what more than 50 other governments have recognized over the past 25 years. The United States is coming very late to this realization. (/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/air_traffic_control_organization_innovation.pdf)

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Dissembling Delta

Last month I countered arguments made by Delta Airlines officials who bizarrely claimed there is no evidence of technology gains or productivity increases in corporatized ATC systems such as Canada’s. Alas, they have not given up their campaign. In just the past week they released a 10-page “study” whose title telegraphs the allegations made within: “The Costs of Privatizing [sic] Air Traffic Control and How It Will Impact Airline Travelers.” Delta’s indefatigable Steve Dickson penned an op-ed for USA Today, based on this piece of work, to which both Nav Canada and I responded, since it was so false to fact. Here are two gems from that report, both stated as fact in the op-ed.

First, by egregious misinterpretation of routinely published date, Dickson claimed that over its history Nav Canada’s ATC fee levels have increased by 59%. In fact, from 1999 when those fees went into effect through 2014, the fee level has gone down by more than 30% compared with Canadian inflation. A similar Delta claim about NATS in the U.K. is also false. Second, Dickson cited a local aviation fuel tax increase by the provincial government of Ontario, a cost burden that corporatization of ATC did not prevent. Well, duh! State governments here are also allowed to impose fuel taxes on aviation, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the cost of ATC.

There are similar howlers in the 10-page “study.” For example, on p. 6 it appears to blame the phenomenon of Canadian passengers crossing the border to depart from U.S. airports like Bellingham, WA on high Canadian ATC costs. Wrong! The problem stems from higher airport costs, due to (a) the high lease payments Canadian airports must make to their federal government, and (b) the much higher PFC levels in Canada. Neither has anything to do with Nav Canada or ATC. And on p. 9 it cites the report of the U.K. Airport Commission about reduced air service between the North of England and London. But that report had nothing to do with the NATS; it was about the lack of runway capacity at Heathrow and Gatwick, which is entirely outside the control of NATS.

This sort of deliberate misrepresentation is a sign of desperation. If the facts don’t support the case you desire to make, apparently Delta thinks it’s OK to make up its own story. But those allegations must not be taken seriously.

The question many of us have been pondering in recent months is why Delta is carrying on this propaganda campaign, even to the point of resigning its membership in airline trade group A4A, which strongly favors ATC corporatization. In a long article about Delta CEO Richard Anderson in Aviation Week‘s January 4th issue, Jens Flottau reported the following: “One observer notes that Delta is being difficult [on ATC reform] because NextGen would require it to invest in a lot of equipment for older jets, and because the restraints on slots in the New York area are actually good for it.” He also noted that “Delta’s bent for cheaper, older aircraft is something Anderson picked up at Northwest, which operated 40-year-old DC-9s with refurbished cabins.”

There is definitely something to this. Today’s Delta is the product of a merger between Northwest and Delta, which added older planes to the latter’s fleet. According to CAPA’s Fleet Database, the average age of Delta’s fleet is 17.1 years. That compares with 11.5 years for American and 13.6 years at United. Delta’s ancient fleet includes nine 747s averaging 24 years and 181 MD-80s and MD-90s averaging 23.1 years. A recently retired airliner pilot (who also once worked on ATC modernization at FAA) emailed me after last month’s issue to support this aged-fleet hypothesis. Delta, he suggested, is “blocking ATC reform for many reasons, largely paralleling Northwest’s earlier foolish positions over two decades ago (e.g., blocking FANS, GPS, data-link, and RNP). . . . It is likely they still think they can derive asymmetric political and operational advantage over their competitors by maintaining the current inefficient and expensive ATC system . . . . This is especially true if Delta continues to operate their present basket-case low-tech or geriatric used jets as the norm. For Delta, it doesn’t matter how inefficient the ATC system is overall, as long as they can game the system better than their competitors.”

There are genuine differences of opinion about corporatization of ATC, and the issue deserves a serious discussion of pros and cons, costs and benefits. But Delta’s resort to making up its own “facts” is way out of bounds.

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Should Conservatives Support ATC Reform?

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R, KS) is a solid conservative, with a 100% voting record from the American Conservative Union and a grade of A from the National Taxpayers Union. Being from Wichita, Kansas-home of several large producers of general aviation aircraft-it’s natural that he feels protective of the home-town industry. Alas, he seems to have gone off the deep end with a recent attack on ATC corporatization. After hosting a Town Hall Meeting with GA leaders last month, he is circulating a one-page brief titled “Why Air Traffic Control ‘Privatization’ Is Not Conservative.” The piece makes six assertions, each explained by several bullet points.

“More Bureaucracy”. Somehow, the new ATC corporation is equated to “an additional layer of bureaucracy,” as if the whole FAA would still be in place in addition to the transformed ATO. It would also supposedly “require DOT to expand its bureaucracy and hire more government workers to oversee the massive and risky transition process.” There was no such expansion in Australia, Canada, Germany, or the U.K., and there is no reason for such expansion here, either.

“Less Congressional Oversight”. Pompeo laments reduced congressional efforts “to ensure accountability for program performance.” Hello? How have 20 years of GAO and OIG reports enabled Congress to fix FAA’s institutional problems with operating and modernizing ATC? Congressional micromanagement is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

“More Expensive”. Again with this “new bureaucracy to oversee ATC”-say what? Under the plan favored by most stakeholders, the existing ATO would be transformed into a self-funded nonprofit corporation, governed by an 11-member stakeholder board. There would be no “new bureaucracy.” And no, there would not be “new tax increases and user fees” to pay for the ATC corporation. No tax money whatsoever would be needed or wanted, and per the House bill, there would be ATC user fees only on commercial turbine-powered flights-not GA.

“Less Safe”. The transformation from ATO to Air Traffic Corporation would supposedly “create distractions and regulatory ambiguities and operational complications that could pose serious safety risks.” If more than 50 other ATC corporatizations had created such risks, they would certainly show up in the data-but no reduction in air safety has occurred. In its two decades of operation, Nav Canada rate of losses of separation between aircraft has been cut in half. Organizational separation of air safety regulation from ATC operations has been the global standard promulgated by ICAO since 2001, and the United States is one of the last countries to make this important transition, which would be accomplished by separating the ATO from the FAA.

“Undemocratic”. In a way, this is the crux of the issue. Will ATC continue to be politicized, with a de-facto board of directors of 535 members, or will it be run as a 24/7 high-tech service business, governed by a carefully balanced board of aviation stakeholders, including GA? Ensuring “aviation access to rural areas” can be spelled out in the enabling legislation, as it is in the House bill.

“Canadian and European Models Aren’t Comparable” . Here Pompeo has been misled into writing that claims that European and Canadian corporatizations have been successful “are false and presumptuous.” That is flatly incorrect. The success of ATC corporatization in those countries and elsewhere has been documented by GAO (2005), by a major international study (2006), in two full-length academic-quality books (2007, 2015), the IBM Center for the Business of Government (2006), MITRE Corporation (2014), and the Congressional Research Service (2015). He also claims that GA activity has declined in Canada, but Nav Canada data show that GA flight activity has increased more than 25% since 2000.

I’m glad to see that some other members of the General Aviation Caucus in Congress are taking a more sensible and better-informed position. Rep. Sam Graves (R, MO) is co-chair of the GA Caucus and a long-time private pilot. He and fellow member Todd Rokita (R, IN) wrote a much-publicized op-ed in The Hill last month pointing out the absence of GA user fees in the House bill and the need for fundamental institutional reform, of the kind embodied by the bill. Their piece received significant coverage in Flying and other GA publications.

I’m also pleased to report that the National Taxpayers Union, which gave Pompeo its top rating, has organized a letter by researchers at various conservative and free-market think tanks, supporting ATC corporatization as entirely consistent with conservative principles. I hope conservatives in Congress pay attention to its message.

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Controller Misallocation Documented by Inspector General Audit

News reports in December that discussed a forthcoming DOT Inspector General audit on controller staffing focused on a shortage of controllers. But now that the report is out, we can see that the real problem is misallocation of controllers at critically important facilities. While some of the most important towers and TRACONs have serious shortages, a number of en-route centers have surpluses.

The new report is “FAA Continues to Face Challenges in Ensuring Enough Fully Trained Controllers at Critical Facilities,” AV-2016-014, dated Jan. 11, 2016. Overall, the audit found that total controller numbers are consistent with the agency’s annual Controller Workforce Plan (CWP)-but the validity of the CWP is questionable. We know this because the National Academy of Science raised serious questions about it in a 2014 study. NAS said the mathematical model on which the CWP is based is flawed, especially for en-route facilities. And a previous Inspector General study, also in 2014, found flaws in the data FAA uses in that model. The audit also found large disagreements between facility managers and headquarters staff over what proper staffing levels should be.

The Inspector General team suggested a possible alternative model called Operational Planning and Scheduling (OPAS), a commercial product currently used by corporatized ANSPs in Australia, Canada, and Germany. Even though FAA’s Office of Resource Optimization has done analyses using OPAS, the agency has rejected using it, preferring a different tool called BATS that it will start using for en-route center staffing plans this year.

How bad are current misallocations? The report presents data on fully certified controller (CPC) and trainee numbers at 23 critical facilities. Its assessment of over- or under-staffing are based on using just the CPC numbers, which I think is reasonable. On this basis, more than half the critical facilities appear to be under-staffed-including six of eight large TRACONS (such as Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, and New York). On the other hand, Atlanta Center, Chicago Center, and Washington Center were among those found to be over-staffed.

Another problem is that the CWP does not adequately take into account facility-specific retirement eligibility. A table in the report’s Appendix lists all 23 critical facilities and the percentage of CPCs eligible to retire. Here are the worst problem cases, in declining percentage order:

O’Hare Tower

50% eligible to retire

Chicago TRACON

45%

Miami Tower

44%

Houston TRACON

43%

Chicago Center

43%

New York TRACON

42%

Indianapolis Center

42%

The audit also pointed out the large disparity in on-the-job training time. This typically varies from one to four years, for the same position in the same facility, but in some cases is even greater. The report notes one case at Chicago Center in which one trainee took 6.4 years to reach full certification while another, with a similar background, took less than one year. To me this suggests serious problems with candidate selection and training-which the recent change that uses a Biographical Assessment as a screening tool may well have exacerbated.

At least as interesting as the Inspector General report is a roundtable discussion on this subject held in December by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Subject-matter experts were ATO Chief Operating Officer Teri Bristol, Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Matt Hampton, and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. The latter made three recommendations for dealing with what he termed a staffing crisis: recruit continually (rather than once a year) for candidates with prior experience (military or FAA), streamline the training and certification process, and create better ways to move people to congested facilities. That sparked a lot of discussion, according to the account in Eno Transportation Weekly (Dec. 9, 2015). Bristol said the ATO has been working on the problem of transfers between facilities, but acknowledged that insufficient money makes this more difficult. Rinaldi said that the agency is allowed to offer better pay and more vacation days for people agreeing to such transfers, “but since the 1990s those incentives have not been offered.”

There was also discussion of the switch to using a Biographical Assessment for initial screening of candidates. Rinaldi agreed that the initial B.A. “was poorly constructed and left too many people out, including many experienced [candidates]”-presumably meaning Collegiate Training Institution graduates. But he said the 2015 version was an improvement. There was also discussion of the mandatory retirement age of 56, with some suggesting that since the retirement age for commercial pilots had been increased from 60 to 65, perhaps an increase would also be warranted for controllers.

Needless to say, better workforce planning and management is yet another problem waiting to be solved, once the ATO is transformed into a real business.

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Ideological Opposition to ATC Corporation

Last month a coalition of left-wing groups formed Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization to lobby against any serious ATC reform. It announced that it has collected 130,000 signatures to its online petition against “privatization” that it will deliver to Congress. And it held a conference call January 26th featuring several of the groups’ spokespersons and two Democratic members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Elijah Cummings from Maryland and Eleanor Holmes Norton from DC. AAATP member groups include Public Citizen, People Demanding Action, Daily Kos, Progressive Congress, and several lesser-known groups.

Aaron Karp of Air Transport World captured the irony of the conference call in his report the same day. While Andrea Miller of People Demanding Action denounced ATC “privatization” as a plot by the airlines to take over the system for their own benefit and bad-mouthed Nav Canada and NATS, that was not where Cummings and Norton were coming from. Norton, who is on the Aviation Subcommittee and asks good questions at its hearings, pointed out “great problems” with FAA’s NextGen implementation and said it would be a mistake for Democrats to “look like we’re standing for the status quo.” And since this event was taking place before the bill had been released, Cummings cautioned that there was nothing yet to argue against, and that once Shuster put something concrete on the table, he’d be ready to discuss it. Norton added, “You will not find many Members saying ‘Hey, we like it the way it is.’ If we look like we’re for the status quo, progressive Democrats on the committee are not being sufficiently innovative.”

I was amused by Miller singling out the Reason Foundation, saying it “is driving a conservative, ideological plan through Congress.” Actually, that’s pretty ironic. In 15 years of writing this monthly newsletter, I have assembled empirical evidence both on the FAA’s institutional limitations and on the growing success of corporatized ANSPs around the world. The groups comprising AAATP know little or nothing about aviation or air traffic control. But they have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything that can be called “privatization,” even when it’s not. So who are the ideologues in this controversy?

People who know a lot about aviation and about air traffic control, like the following, have concluded from experience that it’s simply not feasible for the FAA Air Traffic Organization to do what needs to be done, while it’s entrenched within a federal bureaucracy. These people, along with former Senators Byron Dorgan and Trent Lott, sent a letter to Chairman Shuster February 1st urging that the ATO be separated from FAA and converted into a self-supporting, nonprofit ANSP analogous to Nav Canada:

  • Former DOT Secretary Jim Burnley
  • Former DOT Secretary Norm Mineta
  • Former DOT Secretary Mary Peters
  • Former FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt
  • Former ATO Chief Operating Officer Russ Chew
  • Former ATO Chief Operating Officer Hank Krakowski
  • Former ATO Chief Operating Officer David Grizzle
  • Former Clinton National Economic Council Economist Dorothy Robyn.

I’d rather take the advice of experts like these than a gaggle of progressive ideologues.

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News Notes

Competitor in Space-Based ADS-B Surveillance. A European firm developing a space-based aircraft tracking service announced in December that it also plans to enter the market for global space-based ADS-B surveillance. SES Techcom Services plans to “knit together a hybrid network of satellite constellations” to provide the service, which would compete with first-mover Aireon. Managing Director Gerhard Bethscheider told Air Traffic Management that they hope to have the first system in place for commercial use by 2022, which would be four years after Aireon’s planned 2018 service is operational.

SFO’s Towering Anachronism? The cover story of Airport Business‘s year-end issue featured the huge new $70 million air traffic control tower that opened recently at San Francisco International Airport. The headline “SFO’s Towering Achievement” struck me as ironic, since the case for building a 221-foot tower at an airport frequently fogged in (making its height irrelevant) has been seriously undercut by the development of remote tower technology. To be sure, this project was planned some years ago, before remote towers began being certified for operational use, but in a rational world this surely should be one of the last such edifices to be constructed using scarce ATC resources.

Paperless Flight Information Region in Canada. While electronic flight strips have long been standard in Nav Canada control towers, traditional paper flight strips were still in use in its en-route centers. The transition to fully paperless ATC, though, is now under way. Nav Canada News reported that the Extended Computer Display System (EXCDS), which the company markets worldwide, has become operational in the Montreal Area Control Center. Since all towers and Flight Service Stations in the Montreal Flight Information Region (FIR) were already paperless, that FIR is now the first in Canada to go all-electronic. The others will soon follow.

Ryanair Challenges ANSPs Over Strikes. Low-cost carrier Ryanair last month called on the European Commission and European Parliament to either ban strikes by air traffic controllers or allow other ANSPs to step in and maintain air traffic services during a strike. Ryanair’s Jan. 25 plea was triggered by the 40th strike by French controllers since 2009. Ryanair has launched an online petition campaign in support of its proposal.

Swiss ANSP Joins A6 Alliance in Europe. Swiss ANSP Skyguide has signed an agreement with the A6 Alliance of large European ANSPs, enabling them to work together on projects undertaken as part of the Single European Sky effort. Skyguide will now be part of the A6 Working Group on Research & Development, helping to achieve the goals of the SESAR 2020 ATC modernization effort.

Central American ATC Upgrades Under Way. Thanks to the Central American Corporation for Air Navigation (COCESNA), the ATC systems of Belize and Costa Rica are the first of the six member ANSPs to receive a major technology upgrade. In December a contract with Spain-based Indra Systems was announced, under which the ATC system, radar, and meteorological services will all be modernized. The contract will also involve training courses provided in Spain. COCESNA was founded in 1960 as a technical coordination body to help its members achieve integration and economies of scale in air navigation services in Central America.

Airborne Holding Reduced Over London. A joint effort among the ANSPs of the U.K., Ireland, France, and Eurocontrol has moved from the test phase into being fully operational. The aim is to reduce the amount of time aircraft approaching Heathrow from abroad must spend circling overhead while waiting for clearance to land. Under the new cross-border arrivals management (XMAN) system, aircraft heading toward Heathrow can be directed to adjust their speed up to 350 miles from the airport. Prior to this project, this could only be done once the planes reached U.K. airspace, typically 80 miles from Heathrow. Based on data from several years of trials, full implementation should save over $2.5 million per year in fuel costs and 8,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

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Quotable Quotes

“There was a time when the United States was the gold standard in every aspect of air traffic control. Those days of global leadership, regrettably, are gone. The U.S. no longer has the most modern equipment, the most efficient airplane routings, or the best technology of any of the world’s air traffic control providers. Further, the accumulated effects of budget unpredictability and a bureaucratic organizational structure have slowed progress on implementing next-generation technologies and inhibited our ability to properly staff facilities and procure the best equipment for our nation’s air traffic controllers. . . . We need a reliable, robust 21st century system that ensures access for all users-preserving and expanding services for all communities, large and small. We urge Congress to take action to preserve the FAA’s safety oversight of air traffic control while moving the operation and funding of air traffic control to a federally chartered, nonprofit organization that would be governed and funded by the stakeholders and users of our nation’s aviation system. Only by taking this step will the United States be able to regain its global leadership and preserve the safety and efficiency that our citizens have enjoyed for so many years.”
-Letter to Chairman Bill Shuster from three former DOT Secretaries (Burnley, Mineta, and Peters), one former FAA Administrator (Babbitt), three former FAA Chief Operating Officers (Chew, Krakowski, and Grizzle), a former White House NEC staffer (Robyn), and former Sens. Byron Dorgan and Trent Lott, Feb. 1, 2016

“Canada, Germany, and New Zealand, among others, have shown how commercialized systems are able to depart from the old ways. From government agencies used to serving their political overlords, they became independent entities that serve the interests of their customers, the airspace users, first. They are now also able to be self-sufficient financially, not requiring any taxpayer subsidies-a must in fiscally constrained times. Commercialization has created leaner, more-focused organizations that are able to adapt more swiftly to rapidly changing operational and technological environments.”
-Rui Neiva, Eno Center for Transportation, “Conclusion and Policy Implications,” Institutional Reform of Air Navigation Service Providers: A Historical and Economic Perspective, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015, pp. 150-151

“There is only a limited chance for real improvement of the European [ATC] system unless we articulate this strong statement: Better performance should be rewarded by the possibility of expanding the scope of the business, so that underperformers face less business or even liquidation in the long term.”
-Jan Klas and Lubos Hlinovsky, ANS Czech Republic, “Where Now?” Air Traffic Management, Issue 4, 2015

“Once the price of fuel was not a concern for ANSPs. That was then, this is now: costs matter, even to ANSPs. The drop in fuel prices has severely rebalanced the pay-or-fly-around ratio. The cost-obsessed airlines are wearing out their calculators. This is playing itself out most notably in Europe, where the differences in en-route charges between neighboring ANSPs can be significant, and rerouting may not involve significant distances. You have to admit there is a certain irony here. Because they refused to change by creating truly integrated FABs, neighboring ANSPs are now doing exactly what they were trying to avoid doing: competing. . . . This new world of competition means that the survival of high-cost ANSPs is at risk if airlines can fly around their airspace economically. Meanwhile, the low-cost ANSPs have to deal with higher volumes and congestion, complicating their ability to meet delay targets.”
-Andrew Charlton, “Low-Cost ANSP Seeks Like-Minded Airline for Meaningful Relationship,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, December 2015/January 2016

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