Air Traffic Control Newsletter #139

Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #139

New report details benefits of space-based ADS-B

In this issue:

New Report Documents Benefits of Space-Based ADS-B

With the picture-perfect launch of the first 10 Iridium Next satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket January 14th, the era of space-based ADS-B moved tangibly closer. Based on the current launch schedule, by early 2018 all 66 of the new satellites (plus 9 spares) will be in orbit and Aireon will begin global ATC surveillance operations.

That prospect makes especially timely a new (self-funded) report from The Brattle Group that was released this week. “Warranted Surveillance? Evaluating the Economic Case for Space-Based ADS-B” was researched and written by economists Dorothy Robyn and Kevin Neels, both intimately familiar with aviation policy. It should serve as a valuable resource for a current project of RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), which is assessing the overall case for whether the FAA should subscribe to this service, as a number of leading ANSPs have already decided to do.

According to the Brattle analysis, the case for making use of this new service goes far beyond simply enabling reduced spacing in airspace that is beyond the limits of ground-based radar surveillance (and such oceanic, polar, and remote airspace covers 70% of the earth’s surface). The ability to have accurate, real-time location of aircraft anywhere in the world will make possible new concepts of operation, cost savings, increased safety, important military benefits, and much faster location of downed aircraft.

For everyday operations on oceanic tracks and polar routes, the large separations between flights can and will be reduced significantly. That will allow more flights to obtain their preferred optimal flight tracks and altitudes to minimize fuel burn or to recover from delays. But the benefits do not stop there. The report explains the bottlenecks at the boundaries between (radar-separated) domestic airspace and (procedurally-separated) oceanic airspace, akin to cars having to transition from a crowded six-lane Interstate to a two-lane country road. At both New York and San Francisco, domestic flights in the take-off queue can be delayed considerably as trans-oceanic flights in the queue ahead of them wait for a limited slot to an oceanic track.

A related impact concerns north-south flights on both east and west coasts. They fly close to the coastline to remain in radar range, and when those radar routes are blocked by bad weather, they experience delays or costly re-routings inland; with space-based ADS-B (and a change in FAA procedures), they could fly in oceanic airspace between, say, Boston and Florida. The mostly narrow-body airliners used on these north-south routes are not equipped with the expensive FANS equipment used by planes on long-distance oceanic routes (which enable somewhat closer spacing than for non-FANS-equipped planes). FANS is costly to install and to operate, so narrow-body operators don’t even consider it; space-based ADS-B plus controller-pilot datalink would be a more cost-effective approach for such planes.

Oceanic search and rescue is another key beneficiary of space-based ADS-B. With today’s standard position update for FANS-equipped planes of every 15 minutes, the search area for a downed plane is 55,000 sq. km. Under the worst-case space-based ADS-B update rate of every 8 seconds, the search area would be just 4 sq. km. Space-based ADS-B can also fill in gaps in domestic ADS-B coverage and a lack of redundancy with the system’s ground-based stations.

Widespread global adoption of space-based ADS-B would assist with global harmonization of air traffic management, via what is called “shared situational awareness” among ANSPs. This includes safer and more reliable hand-offs of flights that cross a boundary between two adjacent ANSPs. The Defense Department would likewise benefit, especially in overseas operations in both peacetime and war.

The ongoing NAC assessment of the case for FAA adoption of space-based ADS-B has several quantitative studies available as it pursues this effort. On the question of fuel savings in oceanic airspace, FAA commissioned a simulation by Virginia Tech, and Aireon commissioned a simulation by research firm ISA. Their results are strikingly different. For the Atlantic oceanic airspace, average fuel savings per flight in 2025 were put at 28 kg. by Virginia Tech but between 71 and 467 kg. by ISA; the larger numbers for the longer Pacific oceanic flights are 89 kg. (Va. Tech) and from 108 to 899 kg. (ISA). The difference stems not only from somewhat different assumptions in the base case but also from ISA evaluating three additional scenarios that go beyond what FAA is currently contemplating: reduced separations for non-FANS aircraft, use of great circle routes, and use of variable speeds.

This comparison underscores the conservative concept of operations (CONOPS) that FAA assumes for space-based ADS-B, versus more-expansive changes envisioned by a number of other ANSPs, CANSO, ICAO, the EU, and a growing number of airlines. Hence, the Brattle report recommends that FAA and NAC:

  • Expand the CONOPS used in their ongoing assessments;
  • Account for the full range of potential benefits, not just fuel savings;
  • Account for all affected parties via a full benefit/cost analysis, rather than a narrow business case; and,
  • Focus on the magnitude, not the incidence, of costs and benefits.

The last point is important, since as a tax-funded agency, FAA is unable to charge its aviation customers for a service such as space-based ADS-B. If and when it subscribes, it will have to cover the additional 10s of millions of dollars a year out of its existing budget. Other ANSPs can build that new cost into their user-fee schedules. But that narrow consideration should not be an excuse to ignore the large overall benefits of space-based ADS-B.

There is far more in this report than I have space to cover here. Everyone interested in the future of global air traffic management should download and read the full report. [http://ow.ly/eCEE308xMRT]

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Will the Trump Administration Support ATC Corporatization?

For House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R, PA), the proposition seems obvious. Candidate Donald Trump promised a major effort to rebuild America’s aging and out-of-date infrastructure, including that of aviation. Several times last fall Shuster (an early Trump supporter) told reporters that he’d raised the issue with the candidate and that he “generally likes the idea.” In addition, the most tangible Trump infrastructure plan calls for large-scale tapping of private-sector equity investments and revenue bonds to finance infrastructure modernization.

New Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was asked about this subject during her confirmation hearing. She acknowledged that this is “an issue of great importance,” and that such a major change should only be undertaken after “a national discussion about this.” She told Commerce Committee members that she is “open to all ideas” on the subject and that “this will be one of the issues on which the White House has a say.” She also said she and the President want to “unleash the potential for private investment in our nation’s infrastructure,” which is “in need of repair.” These are not new positions for Chao; as Deputy Secretary under DOT Secretary Sam Skinner during the Bush 41 Administration, Chao was in charge of producing a National Transportation Policy report that stressed increased reliance on user fees rather than taxes, market pricing, and public-private partnerships.

In a December 2016 white paper, Nexa Capital managing partner Michael Dyment lamented the World War II-era technology still used by FAA, the agency’s constrained and uncertain budget, and the transformation of ANSPs in numerous other countries, arguing that “government ownership of transportation infrastructure is no longer necessary—or even possible.” He wrote that converting the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization into a nonprofit corporation funded via a transparent schedule of cost-based user fees would be the best way forward—and fully consistent with President Trump’s overall infrastructure agenda.

The same opponents as last year still oppose ATC corporatization—including House Democratic leadership, Sen. Bill Nelson (D, FL), business jet group NBAA, and Delta Airlines. NBAA has organized a coalition of rural state and small city officials by claiming that ATC corporatization means giving control of the system to the major airlines with little interest in serving their airports (a complete misrepresentation of the balanced stakeholder board concept). There is also a small gaggle of left-wing groups assembled as Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization.

The changed political landscape seems likely to increase the chances for ATC corporatization compared with last year. In addition to Republican majorities in both houses, how strongly the new Administration advocates the idea could make a real difference. Air Traffic Management reported the following straw in the wind in its 4th quarter, post-election issue: “As [General Aviation Manufacturers’ Association] president and CEO Pete Bunce noted, if the new administration came forward with a proposal, then it would undoubtedly change U.S. general aviation’s approach to fighting the move.” And that would be a welcome change.

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FAA Still Unprepared for Major Disruptions—Inspector General

The new Congress has led to some changes in committee assignments A new member of the Senate Commerce Committee is James Inhofe (R, OK). In early January, Inhofe told reporters that he thinks the ATC system is working pretty well. “Before you get to a solution, there has to be a problem. I don’t think that’s much of a problem. . . . I don’t want to try to jump in there and just revamp a system that is working pretty well right now.”

That’s not quite the view of the DOT Office of Inspector General. In a stinging audit report dated January 11, 2017, OIG found the agency still unprepared for major system disruptions, two and a half years after a contract employee sabotaged and shut down Chicago Center, leading to weeks of disrupted air travel. There was also the outage of en-route automation (ERAM) at Los Angeles Center in 2014, another such outage at Washington Center in 2015, and a 2015 flood in San Antonio that disrupted operations at its tower and TRACON for more than two weeks. These events are called ATC-Zero events, when a portion of the system suddenly goes out of service, providing zero ATC functions. As a result of these events, the Chairman and Ranking Members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee asked OIG to audit the FAA’s progress in dealing with ATC-Zero events. (AV-2017-020)

The auditors found that FAA has taken steps to improve its operational contingency plans. But its ATC facilities are not fully prepared to cope with ATC-Zero events. The initial 30-day post-Chicago assessment in November 2014 defined five next steps to be completed within one year—but only two of those are completed more than two years later. Consequently, “FAA air traffic facilities are not prepared to quickly mitigate the impact of air traffic control system disruptions.” In particular:

  • Communications lapses have slowed the recovery process;
  • Controller training has not kept pace with the changes in contingency plans; and,
  • FAA has equipment and logistic support problems (e.g., no working flashlights, poorly maintained contingency towers).

A more fundamental problem is that “FAA’s current ATC infrastructure lacks flexibility and redundancy.” In principle, with state of the art software and communications, it should be possible to make a smooth transition of control from one facility to another, so that a backup facility is always in place in the event one suffers an ATC-Zero event. Alas, neither the ERAM software nor current communications links enable that to be done. Table 2 in the audit report shows that several future NextGen systems will provide some of these capabilities. For example, the forthcoming NAS Voice Switch will allow controllers to talk with pilots anywhere in the system, and will allow facilities to quickly add radio frequencies during emergencies—by 2025! System Wide Information Management (SWIM) will facilitate sharing data among facilities—in 2020 or later.

Another serious problem identified by OIG auditors is that the planning FAA is doing leaves out key segments of airspace. The current planning for “divestment” (meaning transfer of control from an ATC-Zero facility to an operational one) covers only en-route centers. There is no comparable planning going on for TRACONs; hence, it is unknown what role towers and TRACONs will have in such situations. The report adds, “This is a critical element to effectively manage arrivals and departures at busy airports.” No kidding! Moreover, there are no airspace divestment plans for ATC facilities outside the continental United States, such as Guam and Hawaii—or over oceanic airspace.

House T&I Chair Bill Shuster, commenting on the audit report, said “Aviation system inefficiency and delays cost passengers and the economy over $30 billion every year, but unfortunately the FAA’s chronic inability to modernize air traffic services technology is also negatively impacting their ability to address major operational disruptions and reduce delays. This report adds to the sea of evidence supporting the need for real reform in modernizing and managing air traffic services, and letting the FAA focus on its safety mission.”

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AOPA Australia Calls for ATC Privatization

In a stunning move, the principal general aviation body down under—AOPA Australia—has called for privatizing ANSP Airservices Australia and using the proceeds to help revitalize general aviation in that country.

The proposal is laid out in a report called “Project Eureka: a Brief to Government to Revitalise the General Aviation Industry in Australia.” The project is aimed at reversing a 30-year decline in general aviation there, and two of the chapters zero in on excessive regulation by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and en-route and terminal charges from Airservices Australia (ASA). Although the U.S. GA community rails against over-regulation by FAA, AOPA Australia calls for amending their Civil Aviation Act of 1988 to allow U.S. FARs or New Zealand’s CAA rules to be used for general aviation there.

The report also complains about the requirement that GA aircraft in Australia equip with ADS-B/Out five years before the United States’ deadline of 2020; postponing the deadline would allow GA aircraft owners to benefit from cost reductions expected to occur in response to the vastly larger U.S. market for ADS-B equipment. And it urges regulatory changes that could reverse the decline in pilot training in Australia, arguing that the country’s largely flat terrain and open spaces make it ideal for basic pilot training for Asians.

When it comes to the provision of ATC services, Project Eureka calls for privatizing ASA and the elimination of ATC fees for general aviation. Specifically, it calls for either full privatization—which it estimates could bring in between A$1 billion and A$4 billion—or a part-privatization (49%) as with NATS in the U.K. “AOPA’s recommendation is for full privatization, as this provides more scope for long-term productivity reform and maximizes the raised capital. Nav Canada provides a relevant full privatization model case study.” ATC charges of the privatized ANSP would be reviewed and approved by an independent body, as in the U.K.

The proceeds from a full privatization would be split 50/50 between the Treasury and an Industry Trust Fund that would provide capital for aviation R&D, venture capital for start-up aviation companies, encourage the return to Australia of major avionics repair and maintenance companies, help fund the buy-back of secondary GA airports, and support recurrent costs at regional local council airports.

I have no idea what the prospects for these proposals might be. But this is an interesting and unusual proposal, and if it goes somewhere, I will report on what happens.

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Bahamas to Reclaim Airspace from FAA

Way back in 1952, when the Bahamas was still a British colony, an international agreement provided that the FAA would provide upper airspace ATC services through Bahamas airspace. That flight information region is today known as Miami Oceanic (East), or ZMA Oceanic. The Bahamas gained independence in 1973, but that agreement remained unchanged. In 2000, FAA gained authority from Congress to charge overflight fees for flights that traverse US airspace but neither land not take off in the United States. It applied this authority to ZMA Oceanic, without protest from the Bahamas government, even though every Bahamasair flight within the Bahamas had to pay those fees.

In 2006 FAA sent the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs a proposal under which the Bahamas would take over responsibility for collecting overflight fees, while hiring (and paying) FAA to continue to provide the actual ATC services. Amazingly, this proposal went unanswered until March 2014. It was apparently nudged forward in 2015 by the RTCA Eastern Regional Task Group (on which I reported in the June 2016 issue) which called for airspace realignment and infrastructure improvements in Caribbean airspace, including ZMA Oceanic.

On January 17th, Air Traffic Management reported that US-Bahamas discussions were finally nearing an agreement. The plan, to be submitted to ICAO for recognition, would expand the Bahamian Flight Information Region to conform to the country’s maritime boundaries and lead to an initial 10-year contract under which the FAA would be hired to provide ATC services there. The Bahamas government for the first time will be responsible for setting and collecting overflight fees, and using a portion of the revenue to pay FAA for its services. (My guess is that the Bahamas will contract with one of the three global ATC billing services to handle the actual charging.)

A recent article on these developments in the Nassau Tribune cited a 2005 Reason Foundation policy study noting that the Bahamas was one of only 20 small and relatively poor countries in the world that did not charge for ATC services. Soon there will be one fewer such country.

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Drones over Roadways

Guest article by Suzette Matthews and Frank L. Frisbie, Washington Progress Group LLC

Although there seems to be a lot of activity right now to get unmanned aircraft flying in some useful way, it’s difficult to see any organized pathway to regulatory approval of large numbers of commercial UAS in the foreseeable future. Regardless of the level of demonstrated UAS performance and reliability, there is no agreed air traffic regulatory approach for approving widespread UAS operations over the non-participating public, or over non-welcoming property owners.

But there is a way to get small UAS—including package delivery craft—flying safely and acceptably to the public in a near-term timeframe. Why not authorize small hover-capable UAS to operate at an altitude less than 400 feet over existing pubic roads and streets, using the same rules of the road that apply to ground vehicles?  This means operating at a minimum altitude to the right of the roadway’s centerline, stopping/hovering at intersections if necessary to detect and accommodate conflicting UAS traffic (perhaps using the four-way stop rule that traffic to the right proceeds first), and with faster traffic passing above slower traffic at graduated altitudes up to the 400-foot maximum. The “last 100 feet” to destination off the public right of way would be with permission of the landowner, and via arrangements with the ultimate recipient in the case of gated communities and multi-unit buildings, just as it is today for ground vehicles under ordinary trespass laws.

As a technology/performance matter, we’re pretty much ready for this. A large percentage of small UAS types are hover-capable. Survey/mapping technology may already provide adequate ground reference information, and GPS/avionics and mounted camera technology might suffice for one-meter flight path accuracy.  Current state-of-the-art on-board surveillance and collision avoidance technology may provide sufficient latency and accuracy for in-trail operations at the speeds envisioned. At some point, traffic management, metering and prioritization mechanisms might be required in congested environments (unlike cars, UAS can safely hover in place only so long as fuel lasts), but this would not be needed immediately.

Over-the-road operations avoid most of the thorny legal, policy, and safety issues inherent in point-to-point flight. From the safety perspective, little or no risk of collision with manned aircraft exists since general aviation is prohibited from flying under 400 feet. Potential injury and damage risk to people and assets on the ground are bounded, calculable and minimized. Unlike random routings, persons on the road under the UAS flight path are protected by their vehicle roofs from collisions from above. Most motorcyclists and bicyclists wear helmets, and the risk they already face from collision with a car or truck dwarfs the potential injury and damage from a small drone. And residual underlying personal and vehicle property damage risk is readily calculable using local, state, and federal traffic count data. State third-party liability insurance minima applicable to ground vehicles might be extended to cover over-the-road UAS, or route/vehicle-specific coverage could be made available as a way of assuring that anyone injured or damaged by a UAS is adequately compensated.

As opposed to point-to-point routes, operation over road rights of way does not infringe private property rights of road-adjacent landowners. As far as nuisance goes, even the noisiest drones are less audibly annoying than the motorcyclists and trucks that operate on roads without restriction.   And it’s hard to argue that a UAS at less than 400 feet is more of a privacy concern to homeowners than vehicles that already are passing or parking without objection on the adjacent road. To the extent that a UAS is delivering a package to a residence or private business, it should be traversing the last 100 feet with the same property owner permission already required of a USPS or other delivery company truck on the analogous mission.

Admittedly, over-the-road UAS operation would be less operationally efficient in terms of time and fuel than point-to-point routes. But maybe half-a-loaf at this point is better than none. Many of the legal and policy barriers to point-to-point low-level UAS operations are pretty significant, and immediate solutions are elusive. Plans to allow landowners to opt out of UAS operations (“geo fencing”) will no doubt create a patchwork of prohibited airspace and complicated routings that might well prove more circuitous than the over-the-road route between the same points. And it’s not clear at this point how FAA will determine what level and type of UAS operations—if any—over the non-consenting (and possibly objecting) general public are “acceptably” safe.

Rather than tackle UAS safety standards writ large, FAA could tailor limited measures just for over-the -road operations. FAA might only require the UAS manufacturer/operator to demonstrate a level of vehicle frangibility sufficient so as not to penetrate the average ground vehicle; or perhaps demonstrating the ability to soft-land (parachute?) or ditch on the road shoulder in case of aircraft disablement would suffice. Or maybe only the maximum size or weight of the UAS and payload might be prescribed, and the rest be left to the third-party liability and insurance world to figure out. FAA would probably impose a minimum altitude—maybe 100 feet—for over-the-road flights, to minimize distraction of ground-vehicle drivers. And it would not be unreasonable not to allow over-the-road operations where there are sidewalks, indicating lots of pedestrians.

But better to get a majority of UAS flying in the short term than virtually none at all—maybe ever, which is where we seem to be headed now.

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News Notes

SESAR Demonstrates a Virtual Center. A joint effort by three European ANSPs last year demonstrated the world’s first virtual ATC center, in a project organized by SESAR, Europe’s single-sky program. Data was provided by ANSP facilities located in Bretigny (Eurocontrol), Fareham (NATS), and Geneva (Skyguide) to a central location which provided ATC services. In principle, the demonstration illustrates how the virtual or remote tower concept can be applied to centers, as well.

Finland May Spin Off ATC. Although Finavia is a member of CANSO, the government company operates both airports and air traffic control in Finland. On Dec. 20, 2016, the government’s Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy decided that it would be better to separate the two functions, so that airports could have a competitive market for control towers, such as that which prevails in the U.K. and partially in Spain. Finavia itself would remain the airport provider. A final decision on the change is expected in the first quarter of this year.

FAA Proceeding with Second U.S. Remote Tower. Last fall the FAA issued a Request for Information to companies interested in providing remote tower services to Northern Colorado Regional Airport (formerly Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport), 50 miles north of Denver. For this project, the remote tower system is to provide Class D services—detecting both cooperative and non-cooperative aircraft and objects on the surface that could be collision threats. The single-runway airport has no airline service but does host three flight schools and has 100,000 operations per year.

Aireon and FlightAware to Offer Global Flight Tracking. Space-based ADS-B provider Aireon and FlightAware, the world’s largest flight tracking data company, have announced a joint venture with SITAONAIR to provide 100% global, real-time flight tracking data. Aireon’s data will be sent via FlightAware’s secure streaming data feed. The system will work on all airliners equipped with ADS-B/Out, which will soon mean nearly all global airliners. Existing SITAONAIR customers will automatically receive the new service when it begins in 2018. The airline-owned company serves over 400 airlines with over 14,000 aircraft.

Flight Service Station Cost Savings on Target—DOT Inspector General. Over the past 13 years, the Lockheed Martin consolidation and contract operation of FAA Flight Service Stations has delivered cost savings of $2.14 billion—very close to the projected $2.19 billion target. That was among the findings of a November report by the DOT’s Office of Inspector General, which had recommended the contract approach in 2001. The streamlined approach allows most FSS functions to be carried out online, rather than via telephonic or in-person briefings. The report is AV-2017-015 and is available on the OIG’s website.

ENAV Implements Free Route Operations in Italy. Starting last December 8th, Italian ANSP ENAV began offering direct routes across that country’s high-altitude airspace (above 36,000 feet). ENAV is the first of Europe’s five largest ANSPs to implement Free Route airspace, required of all EU members by the beginning of 2022. More than 3,500 flights a day are projected to take advantage of the shorter flight tracks, reduced fuel burn, and reduced CO2 emissions.

Sweden Plans New Airport Using Remote Tower. While Sweden has pioneered remote towers in Europe, thus far air navigation service provider LFV has provided such service to existing, non-towered airports. But last month LFV announced a joint effort with Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions to provide such services to a brand new airport. Scandinavian Mountains Airport will be the world’s first airport planned and built to be served by a remote tower.

FAA Announces 12 East Coast “Q” Routes. Earlier this month, FAA announced the Atlantic Coast Route Project, under which it will implement 12 new GPS-based PBN (performance-based navigation) air routes from New England to South Florida and the Caribbean. To use the new routes, aircraft must be equipped to RNP 2 standards, capable of remaining within +/- 2 miles either side of the designated flight track.

Environmental Benefits of Space-Based ADS-B. A new report from Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics estimates that widespread use of space-based ADS-B could reduce global CO2 emissions from aircraft by 14.3 million metric tons over the decade 2020-2030. The savings are due to replacing “procedural” separation of aircraft on oceanic and polar routes with more radar-like separation, which enables planes to fly tracks that minimize fuel burn—and hence CO2 emissions.

New European Datalink Completes Flight Tests. Due to frequency congestion that affects existing systems, controller-plot datalink has been delayed as part of Europe’s airspace modernization. December’s good news is that a new satellite-based datalink system, Iris Precursor, has completed its first flight tests and is now expected to be in service by 2019. It is a project of Inmarsat, under contract to the European Space Agency.

Argentine ANSP to Modernize Buenos Aires Control Tower. Electronic flight strips and other new technology are now under contract for Argentina’s largest airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. Under a contract signed last month, Frequentis will modernize Aeroparque’s tower systems, implementing IP-based voice communications and recording plus tower automation systems smartTOOLs (information displays and controls) and smartSTRIPS (electronic flight strips).

“Trump Should Seize Aviation Opportunity” That’s the headline on a concise op-ed in The Hill (Jan. 30, 2017) by Cato Institute analyst Chris Edwards. He lays out the case for modernizing U.S. air traffic control by changing its organizational model to a nonprofit federally chartered corporation, its funding model from aviation taxes to direct fees for service, and its governance from congressional oversight to aviation stakeholders. And he presents this as an opportunity for the new Trump Administration to take a bold step toward rebuilding America’s aging infrastructure.

Sid Koslow Retires from Nav Canada. Long-time Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Sid Koslow will retire from Nav Canada on February 1st. Koslow joined the ANSP in 1997 and became Chief Technology Officer in 2002. His many achievements earned him the Glen A. Gilbert Award from the Air Traffic Control Association in 2015. Prior to his Nav Canada years, Koslow spent 30 years with MITRE Corporation.

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Quotable Quotes

“This precise surveillance capability [of space-based ADS-B] will go a long way to reducing the risk of international airspace boundary hand-offs by enabling controllers on both sides of the FIR border to see, in real time, the aircraft they are responsible for. Once in operation, another safety benefit will emerge from this new surveillance capability—the common situational awareness for short and medium distances that both pilots and controllers will have due to the combination of space-based ADS-B and TCAS. The simple fact is the more that people in any given sector of airspace have the same picture, the likelihood of error is reduced. It is hard to put a dollar value on this, but it is very real. My friend, Paul Rinaldi, and his NATCA colleagues, can attest to that.”
—John Crichton, Chairman, Aireon LLC, “Remarks to the International Aviation Club,” Washington, DC, Oct. 6, 2016

“Most critical and potentially most significant, modernize and transform the U.S. air traffic control system. There are successful models out there to provide templates—most notably Nav Canada—but this should be a U.S. system, uniquely designed by and for Americans. [Elaine] Chao probably represents the single biggest opportunity for the U.S. ATC system to move out of its analog, antiquated, and inefficient trap and into the 21st century, with all the advantages that airlines want, controllers want, and passengers will benefit from. What the U.S. air transport system needs is a separate, not-for-profit ATC system that would boost its capacity and the U.S. economy.”
—Karen Walker, Editor, “Five Priorities for the Next U.S. Transportation Secretary,” Air Transport World, Dec. 1, 2016

“Today, the busiest 30 airports in the U.S. handle 72 percent of passengers, and while many are prepared to handle more traffic today, some face capacity constraints and should be expanded as soon as possible. Air traffic control, on the other hand, is a relic from the post-World War II years, and while the federal government has been trying to modernize it since the 1980s, progress is slow and erratic. Only an entity outside the direct control of government (as well as congressional appropriators) will have the necessary independence to implement needed modern technologies at the pace needed to meet demand.”
—Robert Puentes, “Aviation Needs a Makeover,” Eno Center for Transportation, Jan. 19, 2017

“The good news for the Trump administration is that some infrastructure needs would be better met by spinning off a government function. Air traffic control could be handled by a nonprofit funded by stakeholders. Dozens of countries have already made this switch. Their experience shows that this would reduce the federal budget and spur modernization.”
—Karl Rove, “Trump’s $1 Trillion Promise vs. Congress,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 1, 2016

“Chairman Shuster plans to move it forward next year [2017]. I don’t think [the fact that] it’s an election year had anything to do with us not getting it done this year. With the [DC] airports, which was a far smaller proposal, it still took us over two years to educate and convince Congress that it was a good idea. Chairman Shuster just unveiled his proposal last winter, so it was no surprise to me that it might take longer than one session of Congress to go through the same educational process and debate. There is a reasonable chance of getting this done. It’s not going to be easy. In this day and age, getting any big idea through Congress is not easy, but on the merits, it’s compelling as a proposal. . . . It’s not a partisan proposal at all. The closest we came to this before was during the Clinton administration . . . . [T]hey had a proposal called the U.S. Air Traffic Services Corporation, which was a public nonprofit intended to do exactly what Shuster’s proposal does.”
—James Burnley, Interview, “Former Transportation Secretary James Burnley on FAA Reauthorization,” Business Travel News, Aug. 15, 2016

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