In this issue:
- FAA and the SFO near-disaster
- Pushback on ATC corporation falsehoods
- ATO employees after corporatization
- Former Clinton officials back ATC reform
- Would corporatization be unconstitutional?
- Another misleading budget score from CBO
- GPS spoofing’s threat to aviation
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
On July 7th, some 800 people narrowly escaped death when an incoming Air Canada A-320 barely avoided landing on top of four planes waiting to take off on a taxiway which the AC pilots had mistakenly lined up to land on. Aviation safety regulator and ATC provider FAA bears a large share of the blame for what could have been the worst disaster in U.S. civil aviation history.
SFO is one of 35 major airports that has a system called ASDE-X (or an upgraded version called ASSC) in place to prevent “runway incursions”—i.e., collisions between aircraft or between aircraft and surface vehicles on runways. After previous cases of airliners mistakenly landing on taxiways, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2009 urged FAA to provide warnings of potential taxiway landings to controllers, after learning from ASDE-X’s developer, Saab Sensis, that ASDE-X had the capability to detect an incoming plane heading for a taxiway up to three-quarters of a mile away from touchdown. NTSB urged FAA to study this, and if Saab Sensis’s assessment was valid, to make the needed changes. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt rejected the recommendation to even study doing this, and NTSB deemed that an “unacceptable” response (but NYSB has no enforcement powers). Babbitt apparently did not know that this capability already existed in ASDE-X at some locations but was not being used.
I learned this by interviewing a former FAA engineer who has worked on ASSC, ASDE-X, and a predecessor system, AMASS. He told me that the taxiway warning capability was an original AMASS requirement, but when the early system was tested in that mode, it produced a false-alarm rate that tower controllers found unacceptable. Multilateration capability, deployed as part of ASDE-X in 2004-05, added increased accuracy, making the “Arrival to Taxiway Warning” feature functional, but FAA still refused to turn it on. In the wake of the SFO near-disaster, FAA now says that it is working on software upgrades to ASSC and ASDE-X for this purpose, and may begin testing within a few months at its Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. In fact, no software upgrade is needed; the warning module simply needs to be activated and adapted to each airport.
FAA’s second failure was its response immediately after the SFO near-disaster. It took more than 24 hours to notify the NTSB of the incident, which led to two critically important failures. First, the Air Canada pilots were not tested for drugs or alcohol, to see if that might have been a factor. Second, it meant the A-320 was not sequestered so that its cockpit voice recorder could be analyzed for clues to how the pilots mistook the taxiway for the runway. That led to the voice recording being taped over multiple times on flights the next day. Those are inexcusable lapses.
The pilots first erred in choosing a visual approach to SFO at night, which is legal but more-risky with closely-spaced parallel runways and a parallel taxiway. The runway they were cleared to land on has 2,400 feet of white approach lighting ahead of the runway end, plus a precision approach path indicator (PAPI) consisting of red and white lights on either side of the runway, and white touchdown zone lights. The parallel taxiway has only blue taxiway edge lights. In clear weather (which allowed a visual approach), the pilots not being able to see the difference suggests some kind of distraction or impairment—but proof of either is now impossible, thanks to FAA’s dereliction of duty as the aviation safety regulator.
In a hard-hitting editorial on August 15th, the East Bay Times blasted the post-incident responses of FAA and Air Canada as “business as usual,” protecting both parties from the kind of scrutiny and assessment of blame that a near-disaster of this magnitude warrants. FAA was protecting its failure to implement the ASSC/ASDE-X taxiway warning, its failure to have more than one controller in position at SFO tower during a busy evening period, and its failure to immediately notify NTSB. “Nothing to see here, move along folks.”
This case illustrates once again the need for thorough-going reform of the FAA. Separating the Air Traffic Organization from FAA will bring about arm’s-length safety regulation of the ATC system—no more “protecting our own from looking bad.” And the corporatized ATO, freed to perform as a high-tech service business, will be able to shed its risk-averse, status-quo culture and take full advantage of what advancing ATC technology makes possible.
The war of words being waged against corporatization by general-aviation groups, led by bizjet group NBAA and private pilots group AOPA, is now being countered in both aviation and general media.
All the GA groups have adopted the talking points promulgated by NBAA president Ed Bolen. The main points are to falsely portray corporatization of the Air Traffic Organization as follows:
- As “privatization,” which public employee unions immediately interpret as selling or contracting out ATC to a private, for-profit company, putting existing employee jobs at risk;
- As having a governing board “dominated by the big airlines”;
- As operating like a for-profit, putting small airport control towers at risk;
- As leading to unaffordable user fees for general and business aviation; and,
- As “privatizing” U.S. airspace, removing it from public control.
All five of these points are blatant falsehoods, as I explained in last issue’s lead article. The 2017 ATC corporatization bill refutes all five of these points, explicitly. But they are being repeated endlessly not merely by GA groups but also by federal employee groups (with the notable exception of controllers’ union NATCA) and the Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA), which includes many directors of small airports and many state and local officials of rural states. I have long suspected that AAAA is a front group for NBAA, but until recently my only evidence was that Ed Bolen himself is AAAA’s chairman. But Marc Scribner of think tank CEI has checked tax records and found that NBAA accounts for 85% of AAAA’s funding. (“More on ‘Sully’ and Private Jet Air Traffic Control Subsidies,” Aug. 18, 2017)
AOPA’s recent articles on the subject fully reflect the Bolen narrative, as in CEO Mark Baker’s editorial in the September issue of AOPA Pilot, “The Perils of Privatization.” In addition to repeating Bolen’s talking points, that editorial made false statements about the performance of Nav Canada and its alleged negative impact on general aviation. Those distortions led the president of the Canadian Owners & Pilots Association, Bernard Gervais, to correct the record on Nav Canada and general aviation. In an email to Baker, Gervais stated that GA is alive and well in Canada and that his 15,000 pilot members “are largely satisfied with the service we receive from Nav Canada.” Gervais also asked AOPA “to stop using Canada as your example.”
That email was publicized by GA news site AvWeb on August 16th. In response to a lot of feedback, AvWeb followed up with a Point/Counterpoint by Baker and Gervais on August 27th. In his piece, Baker cited (false) claims about Nav Canada made in a 2016 Delta Air Lines “study” that I debunked in Issue No. 130 of this newsletter (https://reason.org/news/show/air-traffic-control-newsletter-130). Baker also quoted a Canadian GA pilot who claimed that “Now they want to charge you for everything, they send a bill and it discourages people.” But the only bill that COPA members pay to Nav Canada is a single C$68 per year registration fee. Business jets in Canada of course pay ATC weight-distance charges, as they do in every country in the world except the United States. In his rebuttal, Gervais explained how ATC for GA pilots actually works in Canada, and concluded that “things are working out pretty good. Would anyone go back to a government-run system? No.”
AIN Online‘s Kerry Lynch wrote (Aug. 23rd) that “NBAA Comes Under Fire in ATC Battle,” reporting on a joint news release by the National Taxpayers Union and Taxpayers United, taking the bizjet group to task for “leading the charge against this much-needed reform.” In the general media arena, Drew Johnson of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance had a piece on Huffington Post headlined “Corporate Jet Lobby Shouldn’t Dictate Air Traffic Control Reforms.” Ian Adams of think tank R Street authored “End Corporate Welfare in the Sky” for The Hill (August 7th), while Charlie Leocha of Travelers United did likewise on August 18th (“Private Jets Selfishly Slow Air Traffic Change”).
These pieces all include the point that NBAA is defending its ability to get the full range of ATC services while paying only a pittance, via a turbine fuel tax. That certainly explains the time and money Ed Bolen is spending. But the irony in all this is that the 2017 House bill prohibits by law charging any ATC fees to business or general aviation flights. Period. It would take subsequent legislation by Congress to change that. The ATC corporation’s board would be powerless to impose any such user fees, absent a change in federal law.
What can the current staff of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization look forward to (or not) once the ATO is corporatized? As currently organized, the ATO has around 33,000 employees, all of them civil servants, and the majority of them members of various unions. The announced positions of various employee groups break down as follows:
- Controllers’ union NATCA (about 15,000 members) favors corporatization, hoping for technology and working conditions like their counterparts have at Nav Canada.
- The other employee unions (totaling around 10,700), the largest of which is technicians’ union PASS, are outspokenly opposed to corporatization.
- The FAA Managers Association, representing about 1,600 front-line supervisors, changed its position this year from neutrality and negotiation to strident opposition. (For the past four years or so, FAAMA reprinted articles from this newsletter in their magazine, Managing the Skies. That stopped abruptly earlier this year.)
Some of the statements being made about ATO employees and corporatization are truly bizarre. For example, Rep. Todd Rokita (R, IN)—the only Republican on the House T&I Committee who voted against corporatization this year–was quoted in Politico (June 27th) saying, “A true privatization effort would significantly cut federal workers. But this bill does not reduce the regulatory state or the number of workers.” Say what? How does taking 33,000 people off the federal payroll not reduce the number of federal workers? Then there was this comment from Rep. Tom Cole (R, OK), circulated to FAAMA members by Lisa Bercher, president of the Headquarters Chapter. Referring to last year’s corporatization bill, Cole wrote that it was an effort “to privatize the FAA and replace the federal workforce with private contractors.” Don’t these people read the bills they vote on?
With the 2017 T&I bill close to reaching the House floor in September, Bercher has been ramping up efforts to have FAAMA members call their “Congressmen” in opposition to “privatization,” using all the rhetoric from Ed Bolen and AAAA. Similar claims appeared in several articles in the July/August issue of FAAMA’s Managing the Skies. In an editorial, “ATC Privatization and You,” Executive Director Louis Dupart issued the following warning: “Who will suffer? You, personally, and the American public generally, as thousands of talented managers and employees will opt to retire rather than risk being subject to a corporate board on which they have no voice that is capable of changing their lives and their future.”
Let’s pause and think about the implications of that statement. It is true that after the transition, ATO employees will no longer be civil servants. That means they can be held accountable for results in ways that are not possible under the civil service system. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent editorial, “in the federal government, it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone,” thanks to the obstacle course known as the Merit Systems Protection Board. Being held accountable for results has the upside of merit-based pay increases—and the downside of being let go. That is an important step toward rebuilding the organizational culture of the ATO to be an innovative, customer-focused high-tech service business.
And the likelihood that significant numbers of ATO employees will be uncomfortable in the new structure and will opt to retire is another big plus for corporatization. Voluntary retirement of those not well-suited to an innovative, results-focused corporate culture will clear the way for recruiting the kinds of engineers, software writers, and program managers who have departed FAA for the private sector over the past decade or so but are still in the workforce, many of whom would jump at the chance to help remake the ATO as the world’s largest and best air navigation service provider. I know a number of such people; they are long-time subscribers to this newsletter.
Though I’ve seen very little publicity about this, 13 former senior officials involved with ATC reform during the Clinton Administration sent an open letter on July 20th to Members of the House, urging support for corporatizing the Air Traffic Organization. In the letter, they reminded their fellow Democrats in the House that 22 years ago the Clinton/Gore Administration made a concerted effort to move the ATC function out of FAA, setting it up as a corporate entity supported by fees charged for its services and able to issue revenue bonds for large-scale capital modernization. The name of the proposed corporation was the U.S. Air Traffic Services (USATS) corporation. The legislation was drafted by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and introduced in the House Aviation Subcommittee by then-Rep. Norm Mineta (D, CA)—but was killed by Subcommittee Chair Jim Oberstar (D, MN), a die-hard defender of the status quo.
After stating that the ATC system’s problems remain as serious as they were 22 years ago, the former officials express their support for the current House bill, but with the possibility of a few improvements. The one they single out would subject business jets to ATC charges for using the same services that are used by other high-altitude turbine-powered aircraft. They also cite the fact that some 60 countries have corporatized their ATC systems, and that the world’s second-largest ATC corporation, Nav Canada, has an excellent track record over the past 20 years.
Signers of the letter include former DOT Secretaries Federico Pena and Norm Mineta, former Deputy Secretary Mort Downey, former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers Laura D’Andrea Tyson, Martin Bailey, and Jason Furman, and other senior White House officials, along with former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, who chaired the 1993 National Airline Commission that also recommended corporatization.
I’m glad to see the Democratic members of Congress being reminded of the long, bipartisan history favoring removal of the ATC function from the FAA and from the federal budget.
Back in 2015, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D, OR), Ranking Member of the House T&I Committee, asked the Congressional Research Service to ascertain whether a self-funded non-profit ATC corporation would be constitutional. But as I reported in Issue No. 123 of this newsletter, since there was no actual bill in existence at the time, DeFazio gave CRS an early nine-page version of the Term Sheet describing a proposed ATC corporation, developed by the ATC reform task force of the Business Roundtable. But DeFazio added a provision not in the Term Sheet: that the ATC corporation would “establish ATC procedures” that aircraft would be compelled to follow. The resulting CRS report raised some questions, mostly related to the constitutional “non-delegation doctrine” (that Congress cannot delegate legislative or regulatory powers to a private entity). If the ATC corporation were making the rules, that could well be an unconstitutional delegation.
Now that we have the 2017 version of actual ATC corporation legislation, DeFazio tried again, asking CRS to review the bill’s constitutionality under the non-delegation doctrine, the due process clause, and the appointments clause of the Constitution. CRS’s report was released on July 18, 2017. It makes tedious reading for non-lawyers, but I read the whole report, and was struck by its cautious language. The bottom line conclusion, on page 2 of the 36-page report, is the following:
“Various provisions proposed in Title II [of HR 2997]to establish and transfer air traffic services to the Corporation appear to respect the boundaries of the three constitutional doctrines analyzed. There are a few discrete issues raised by the delegation of authority to the Corporation that could be viewed as a colorable claim if challenged in court. Even so, none of the potential constitutional issues raised by the bill seem necessarily insurmountable, and, as a result, [this] memorandum discusses both legislative and judicial methods that could resolve potential concerns with Title II of the legislation.”
That generally positive conclusion has not stopped Rep. DeFazio claiming that the CRS report shows that “the plan to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system violates the U.S. Constitution in several ways.” The same point was pursued in a heavily end-noted article by NBAA president Ed Bolen in a special issue of the American Bar Association’s Air & Space Lawyer, released this summer, devoted to ATC corporatization. In the same issue, an article co-authored by Sharon Pinkerton and David Berg of Airlines for America includes a rebuttal of that claim. Among other things, it cites President George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13264 declaring ATC “not inherently governmental,” as well as a legal determination by DOT Secretary Mineta that it is FAA regulations that direct the use of the nation’s airspace, while the ATC system merely carries them out. That would not change if the ATC system were run by a federally chartered nonprofit corporation (any more than it has been changed by the Federal Contract Tower program under which 253 control towers are operated by private companies).
Some fine-tuning of the language of the corporatization might be needed, to head off legal challenges, but the idea that ATC corporatization is unconstitutional is nonsense.
Over the years I have had productive meetings with staff members of the Congressional Budget Office, and at least once have testified side-by-side with a CBO economist. But for the second year in a row, CBO has produced a budget score of an ATC corporation bill that is basically absurd.
Last year CBO’s prestidigitation included unwarranted assumptions that both the spending and the revenues of the new corporation should be counted in the federal budget. And because last year’s House T&I bill did not include a revenue title, CBO therefore assumed that all the existing aviation taxes would remain in place, in addition to the $14 billion or so in ATC fees that would actually be paying for the corporation. Voila: the combined burden would be equivalent to a large federal tax increase on air travelers, and that would reduce flying and therefore reduce federal tax revenue, and then, and then . . . the result would be a $20 billion increase (over 10 years) in the federal budget deficit.
This year’s bill will include a revenue title when it reaches the House floor, drawing on a 10-year budget projection from the Office of Management & Budget that shows aviation tax revenue being cut way back as the corporation takes over and starts charging ATC fees. But this year’s CBO score is even worse than last year: a 10-year increase in the federal budget deficit of $98.5 billion. This comes about because CBO continues to make the unwarranted assumption that the ATC corporation’s spending is “federal spending” and its user-fee revenues are still federal revenues. CBO this time does agree that the reduced federal aviation taxes largely offset the new ATC user-fee revenue. But for reasons of its own, CBO re-categorizes the corporation’s spending from discretionary to mandatory. And the way budget scoring rules work, the result is a mandatory spending increase of $97 billion. Logically, this is offset by an equivalent decrease in discretionary spending, but CBO’s scoring rules don’t work that way. So its counter-factual headline number is now in circulation, gleefully cited by every corporatization opponent.
A news release from the House T&I Committee on August 21st was appropriately headlined, “Another Bogus Score for Air Traffic Control Reform.,” citing an August 17th piece of that title by Michael Sargent of the Heritage Foundation. In a good piece in Eno Transportation Weekly August 16th, Jeff Davis explained the arcane nature of the scoring rules involved. pointing out that CBO’s new score, like its last-year score, “effectively assumes that the federal government will pay double for air traffic control after 2020.” He also notes that the Office of Management & Budget disagrees with CBO’s judgment that the ATC corporation should be classified as part of the federal government.
We don’t yet know the cause of two recent collisions between commercial ships and U.S. Navy destroyers in Asia, but one possible cause is GPS spoofing. All commercial ships must be equipped with an AIS anti-collision system, which uses GPS to show the location of other vessels. In July, the U.S. Maritime Administration issued a warning to shipping in the Black Sea, based on a June 22nd report to the U.S. Coast Guard from a commercial vessel, reporting false GPS locations of other shipping on its GPS receiver. Over 20 other vessels reported similar problems on that date. The incident is believed to be a case of GPS spoofing (in which false GPS signals are directed toward operators in a specific area). Reuters on August 7th reported growing concerns in the shipping industry about GPS jamming and spoofing. North Korea has been a long-time offender, prompting development of a back-up system in South Korea. The Korea Herald last year reported over 2,100 GPS disruptions of aircraft since 2010, and a March 6, 2017 article in GPS World was headlined “GPS Disruption a Full-Fledged Aviation Problem.”
Much of FAA’s NextGen technology upgrade, including ADS-B, depends on GPS. Yet GPS signals from the satellite constellation are very weak and susceptible to jamming and spoofing. Because of this vulnerability, the original NextGen plan to have ADS-B replace VORs and secondary radars—yielding important savings in maintenance costs and future replacement costs—was scrapped, and a “minimum operational network” of VORs will remain, apparently along with secondary radars, eliminating a significant fraction of the planned cost savings.
And as I’ve reported a number of times before, an aviation-only solution to GPS vulnerability is very sub-optimal, given the vast array of uses for GPS in positioning, navigation, and timing throughout modern economies. What all these myriad users need is a robust alternative to GPS, with a higher-power signal operating in an entirely different portion of the spectrum. Such a system exists, and is in use by China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and recently South Korea. It operates in the same frequency band as the old LORAN system used mostly in the maritime world. But the new version—called eLORAN—is a high-tech marvel whose only relationship to the old-fashioned system is the potential re-use of the former system’s ground stations and the same frequency band. Several tiny eLORAN receivers have been patented recently, including one by Dutch firm Reelectronika that is only 6 cm long, with a 5 cm antenna. This could easily be retrofitted in aircraft, ships, farm tractors, trucks, and any other transportation vehicles. And Texas-based Continental Electronics has patented a lower-height eLORAN transmitter and ground station that takes up far less space than old-fashioned LORAN ground stations.
The Obama Administration abandoned a GPS backup plan that had been agreed to by both DoD and DOT in 2008, calling for development of an eLORAN system, as recommended by a distinguished panel of GPS experts. After eight years of inaction, Congress has picked up the ball on a bipartisan basis, with Rep. John Garamendi (D, CA) championing it in the House and Sen. Ted Cruz (R, TX) is doing likewise in the Senate. In July, the House passed the DHS Authorization Act, which included a mandate to develop an eLORAN backup system for GPS. And the House 2018 National Defense Authorization Act provides $10 million for GPS backup proof-of-concept work by the Air Force. This is welcome progress toward implementation of a robust backup for all of GPS’s functions, for all users.
JetBlue Customers Learning About ATC Reform. As of late August, JetBlue had included a several-minute video on ATC reform to the seatback video on all its flights. In the video, CEO Robin Hayes and one of the airline’s pilots explain the need for reform of the governance and funding of the system, to facilitate modernization and improved air travel. Go to: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jpbk835esrw4pmp/JetBlue%20ATC%20Reform.mp4?dl=0
Aireon Signs Two More MOUs for Space-Based ADS-B Service. Two more air navigation service providers have signed Memoranda of Understanding with space-based ADS-B provider Aireon. They are the Dutch ATC provider LVNL, whose service covers Dutch airspace and a large part of the North Sea, and Saudi Air Navigation Services (SANS), responsible for ATC in all Saudi airspace. Both ANSPs will evaluate the benefits of subscribing to Aireon’s satellite-based surveillance, once the system begins operating in late 2018.
Nav Canada Cutting Rates and Providing Refunds. Thanks to strong traffic growth and larger-than-projected revenues in FY 2017, Nav Canada has announced a rate decrease of 3.9% for FY 2018, plus a one-time refund totaling $60 million. This will be the second year in a row for the company’s rates to be reduced.
LFV and Saab Set Up Joint Venture for Remote Towers. Not to be outdone by the recent investment in remote tower company Searidge by UK air navigation service provider NATS, the Swedish ANSP—LFV—has announced a joint venture company with remote tower pioneer Saab. Subject to approval by the Swedish Competition Authority, the new company will offer its services to ANSPs in other countries seeking to implement remote towers.
Civil-Military Airspace Integration in Netherlands. Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Center (MUAC) has announced that it has implemented integrated ATC service for both military and civil aviation above 24,500 ft. in the Dutch portion of MUAC airspace. In a second phase, to be implemented by year-end, military controllers will co-locate in LVNL’s Schiphol center to jointly manage lower-altitude airspace in the Netherlands.
Unified Upper European Airspace Region Under Study. The European Commission in June announced a project to investigate creation of a European Upper Information Region covering all of Europe. If implemented, EUIR would achieve one of the main objectives of the long-running Single European Sky program, providing a single flight information region (FIR) that merges the national upper-airspace FIRs into a single borderless FIR. Besides facilitating free-route airspace across the continent, the EUIR would provide a way for other ANSPs to provide ongoing ATC services in the event of a strike or other disruption in a single EU member country.
State-Based ATC Citizen Reform Groups Organizing. Late August brought the announced formation of Missouri Citizens for On Time Flights, the 11th such state-based group promoting reform of the structure, governance, and funding of the U.S. air traffic control system. Members of the Missouri group include state legislators and other citizens. They are urging Missourians to contact their congressional representative in favor of the current ATC corporatization efforts. The national organization’s website is: www.ontimeflights.org
Jersey Wins EU Certification. Jersey Air Traffic Services has received certification from EU safety regulator EASA, which permits it to provide air traffic services in the Channel Islands airspace between France and the U.K. The new certification is a boost for JATS’ plan to become the first operator of a remote tower facility in the U.K. Specifically, it plans a contingency facility as a back-up for its conventional control tower, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million.
GPS Disruption Would Cost the U.K. Over $1 Billion per Day. A study by London Economics, commissioned by Innovate UK, found that the U.K. economic impact of a disruption of GPS service would be $1.32 billion per day. It pointed out that all critical national infrastructure systems rely on GPS. The impact on aviation was dwarfed by the impact on emergency and justice services, road transport, and the maritime industry. The report suggested eLORAN as a viable overall backup system.
FAA Data Comm Program Ahead of Schedule. Harris Corporation has completed early the first phase of FAA’s Data Comm program, which has installed digital messaging at 55 airport control towers, to permit controllers to update pilot’s flight plans prior to departure, for all aircraft equipped to send and receive digital messages. The next phase of Data Comm will install digital messaging capability in 20 en-route centers, scheduled to be completed by November 2019.
National Grassroots Groups Endorses ATC Corporation Bill. FreedomWorks, a mass-membership grass-roots organization which claims 6 million members, has urged them to contact their congressional representatives to support the current House bill that includes corporatization of the ATC system. Other grass-roots, taxpayer-friendly groups that are pro-corporatization include Americans for Prosperity and the National Taxpayers Union.
Electronic Flight Strips Operational in France. The ANSP of France, DSNA, has put into service an upgrade called ERATO at its area control centers in Brest and Bordeaux. It provides automated assistance to high-altitude controllers, including the provision of electronic flight strips, which permit electronic hand-offs of flights from one center to another. ERATO will be implemented at the remaining three centers within the next few years.
FAA ADS-B Mandate for 2020 to Remain. Deputy FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told the NextGen Advisory Committee in July that the deadline for aircraft equipage with ADS-B will remain firm. All aircraft operating in controlled airspace as of January 1, 2020 must have certified, operational ADS-B equipment. Some general aviation groups have protested that the deadline cannot be met within that time-frame, but GA organizations AOPA and GAMA continue to support it.
Feedback on FAA Electronic Flight Strips Article. Several readers sent in comments on last issue’s article on FAA’s slow pace toward implementing e-strips. One pointed out that in en-route centers, controllers have been using a tool called URET in lieu of strips for over a decade. Another pointed out a typo regarding Nav Canada’s implementation of e-strips in Toronto tower: it should have read 1998, not 1988. A third filled in some additional history on early FAA e-strips attempts, dating back to 1978-80. It remains a sad commentary on FAA that it will take nearly a decade more for FAA to have in place electronic flight strips that Nav Canada has had in service for more than a decade.
“While America’s air traffic control system is the world’s largest and safest, we need to address the fact that our air traffic infrastructure and technology have fallen behind, and until we fix the structure around the system, we won’t see progress. . . . Attempts to reform our air traffic control system have been made under both Democratic and Republican administrations in the last 20 years. Each and every time, these attempts have been stalled by entrenched interests who want to maintain the status quo. It’s long past time we have a reliable, robust system that ensures access for all users. . . . Congress has an opportunity to strengthen the FAA’s role in ensuring the safety of our system, while moving the operation and funding of air traffic control to a federally chartered, non-profit 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 our global leadership and pave a way forward that enhances safety, improves efficiency, and accommodates the growing demand for air services.”
—Norman Mineta and James Burnley [both former Secretaries of Transportation], “Our Nation Has No Time for Delay in Fixing Our Air Traffic Control System,” The Hill, June 25, 2017
“The FAA currently does not have an incentive structure to operate as efficiently as possible. . . . However, establishing a management structure overseen by a stakeholder board will, under an economist view, help drive down costs and increase capital investment at agreed-upon levels. Currently some airlines lack confidence in the FAA’s ability to maintain its capital commitments, resulting in airlines adopting slower avionics modernization schedules. . . . An air traffic management system where stakeholders sit on a decision-making board could lead to more in-depth knowledge, sturdier trust, and improved transition planning, since everyone will have input on the modernization schedule. Under FAA’s current structure, NextGen modernization will eventually get to a point of increased direct routing of aircraft. However, a structure with stakeholder engagement, decision-making authority, and predictable funding may help solve equipage issues sooner.”
—Peter F. Dumont, “A New Day for ATC Reform,” The Journal of Air Traffic Control, Summer 2017
“We are huge proponents of the President’s agenda to modernize the air traffic control system. This is the only game in town, and we are 100% behind it.”
—Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, quoted in John Hemmerdinger, “Delta Backs Trump’s Plan to Modernize U.S. ATC,” Flight International, July 18, 2017
“Flying in remote areas of Canada, pilots send text messages to controllers and get electronic responses. Requests for altitude changes are automatically checked for conflicts before they even pop up on controllers’ screens. One mouse click can approve a request, update the plane’s flight plan, and alert other controllers. It’s faster, more efficient, and more accurate than U.S. procedures, and results in better flights for passengers. FAA has implemented digital communications at 55 major airports to deliver flight plans on the ground. That saves time, especially in stormy situations where lots of flights are getting new routes, and can reduce errors. But communicating with airborne planes by text won’t come until 2019 at the earliest.”
—Scott McCartney, “The Case for Privatizing Air Traffic Control,” The Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2017
“Nav Canada’s four founding groups comprise the airlines, the federal government, business and general aviation, and its employees. All have representatives on the 15-member board of directors . . . who are charged with oversight, including fair treatment for all stakeholders. . . . As the debate heats up on FAA reauthorization, the actual Canadian experience regarding business and general aviation should be part of the deliberations. After all, our northern neighbors have found a way to stabilize the process while apparently satisfying the broad range of users. Something to think about, eh?”
—William Garvey, “Northern Exposure: Worth a Closer Look, Neighbor,” Business & Commercial Aviation, December 2015