Air Traffic Control Newsletter #147

Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter

Air Traffic Control Newsletter #147

Questions about GAO report on NextGen

In this issue:

Questions About GAO’s New Report on NextGen Progress

Last month the Government Accountability Office released a new ATC report, “Progress and Challenges in Implementing NextGen” (GAO-17-450, dated August 2017). It attempts to strike a balance between a critique of FAA’s spotty progress and finding things to praise. Overall, in my view, it paints an overly rosy scenario. I found six general problems with GAO’s assessment, which takes the FAA party line too seriously.

First, the report notes without critical comment that FAA has moved the goal posts for NextGen. The original plan was that the transformation laid out by the Joint Planning & Development Office (JPDO) would be completed by 2025, and both GAO and FAA continue to give lip service to that date. However, in estimating the total cost for NextGen, both FAA and GAO now use 2030 as the end date. Thus, when GAO accepts FAA’s claim that its overall cost estimate is close to what was originally projected, it is silent on the five-year delay in getting the whole system implemented.

Secondly, as both the National Academy of Sciences and the DOT Office of the Inspector General have noted, what was originally supposed to be a sweeping transformation of air traffic management has morphed into a set of (long-overdue) technology upgrades. The GAO report acknowledges this on p. 7, but elsewhere in the report adopts FAA’s use of the word “transformation.” On p. 8, it says that when FAA uses 2025 as the target date “to complete the transformation of the NAS to a NextGen system by 2025,” the agency “does not state that NextGen will be implemented or completed by 2025,” but rather that there will be “implementation of NextGen concepts” by then. Hmmmm.

Unfortunately, the supposedly on-target cost of NextGen has been arrived at by re-defining NextGen’s content. Two examples of programs that were not in the original plan but have now been redefined as part of NextGen are RECAT (recategorizing wake-separation standards) and Metroplex (redesigning the airspace and procedures in large metro areas). But a number of original elements of the vision have been down-graded or dropped altogether. For example, the original plan called for “Equivalent Visual Operations—EVO,” meaning that operations in low-visibility conditions at airports would be improved to be equivalent to what happens in clear weather. That has now been changed to improved “Low Visibility Operations.” But that’s not all. Six major components of NextGen—detailed in Appendix V— have been dropped altogether (officially, deferred until after 2030, but FAA has no plan or budget for resuming activity on them). These include large-scale facility consolidation as well as Remote Towers.

Another problem, mentioned but not emphasized by GAO’s report, is over-stated benefits. FAA’s current benefit/cost analysis has come up with $2.7 billion in benefits from programs implemented thus far, one of which is the Metroplex program. For that program, the benefits estimate comes from a computer model, based on assumptions of how the program is expected to work. The only actual empirical data comes from an assessment of data from the North Texas (Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area) Metroplex, which found the benefits to be negligible. This was due to some aircraft not being equipped to use the new procedures, and to the benefits model assuming the time and fuel savings are realized every single day (when in fact “irregular operations” occur about one-third of the time). Moreover, FAA’s map of the entire Metroplex program still shows nothing planned for the metro area that needs it most: New York/New Jersey. And as GAO notes, Metroplex is seriously behind schedule. The plan called for 10 Metroplex projects to be completed by 2016, but only 4 have been finished as of 2017.

An important problem GAO fails to note is concealed costs. The FAA counts as costs only the specific projects or programs it defines as NextGen. But the original NextGen concept was going to save boatloads of money by replacing legacy equipment with new technology. That would save the costs of ongoing maintenance, as well as the need to replace much of this aging equipment. On p. 5 of its report, GAO states that NextGen will improve ATC “through the replacement of the legacy radar-based ATC system with a satellite system.” Except that is no longer the case. Primary radars, the only ones that can detect non-cooperative targets (e.g., with transponder turned off), serve defense and homeland security (in addition to ATC) functions, and will obviously be retained. And since the planned replacement for radar—ADS-B—is vulnerable to GPS interference and spoofing, FAA will not replace secondary radars (which read the transponder signals), either, nor will it replace about half of the ancient VORs. So the need to continue maintaining these systems, and the need to purchase replacements as they wear out, are de-facto costs of NextGen as it has evolved, compared to how it was originally envisioned. Neither FAA nor GAO has acknowledged this.

Finally, a point that the Inspector General’s office has made repeatedly over the past decade is FAA’s current practice of “re-baselining” programs that go over budget and/or get behind in implementation. They are periodically given revised budgets and schedules. The old ones are forgotten, and FAA managers are only responsible for the revised cost and schedule targets. This is akin to grade inflation at America’s universities: you wouldn’t want to make anyone feel bad by holding them to yesterday’s criteria.

I suppose one could characterize GAO’s new report as a “glass half-full” rather than a “glass half-empty.” Either way, it is far from a ringing endorsement of either transformation or cost-effective modernization of the ATC system.

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Inspector General ADS-B Audit Reveals Larger FAA Problem

On September 5th, the DOT Inspector General’s office released AV2017075, “Greater Adherence to ADS-B Contract Terms May Generate Better Performance and Cost Savings for FAA.” It details a litany of problems in how FAA has administered a $4.4 billion, 35-year contract to develop, install, operate, and maintain the nationwide network of ground stations for domestic surveillance of aircraft in flight via ADS-B.

The procurement is a kind that is becoming popular worldwide for infrastructure megaprojects: design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM). It is often used when a government agency does not have the large capital budget available up-front, and is unable to issue revenue bonds to finance the project (something FAA cannot do, as a federal agency). So instead, the winning bidder for the ADS-B contract agreed to finance the system of more than 600 ground stations—and delivered them pretty much on-time and on-budget in 2014, and has been operating them ever since. So what is the Inspector General’s beef?

According to the audit report, the FAA has been a pretty poor contract administrator. Instead of boring you with the gory details, here is just a sampling of the topics addressed.

FAA monitoring did not ensure that all ADS-B performance requirements were being met:

  • It did not require the contractor to report on all the metrics;
  • Its independent monitor also did not do this;
  • Its acceptance testing process was limited, rather than being comprehensive;
  • It accepted incomplete installations, and made partial payments for them.

FAA’s procedures were not adequate to determine if its payments to the contractor are reasonable:

  • It did not assess the possibility of adjusting subscription fees when fewer stations turned out to be needed;
  • It paid incentive fees for basic performance, rather than only for superior performance.

There’s more, but I think you get the picture. This looks and sounds like what some would call a sweetheart deal. I don’t fault the contractor for trying to get the most it can out of the contract. My first job out of MIT was at a large aerospace/defense contractor, and I know how the game is played. The key question, which the Inspector General report does not ask, is why. Why does FAA show so little concern for getting its money’s worth out of a $4.4 billion contract? I can think of at least two reasons, each of which may be a factor.

The first is that those responsible for dealing with the contractor are civil servants, making civil service salaries. They are dealing with people in large, successful companies that thrive on government contracts. Many FAA people leave civil service for jobs with contractors, so being nice to contractors may be seen as opening future career opportunities. I don’t think this is the main problem, but it may be true in some cases, at least influencing mindsets.

Far more important is the FAA’s organizational culture. In a self-supporting air navigation service provider (ANSP) such as Airservices Australia, Germany’s DFS, the U.K.’s NATS, and Nav Canada, the ANSP strives to serve its aviation customers, who are the ones who pay the bills. That customer/provider nexus puts a premium on delivering value for money. By contrast, the FAA gets its money from Congress, which tries to tell it what to do. So Congress is the de-facto customer, whom the agency strives to please. The absence of a real customer/provider relationship makes achieving value for money for airspace users a low priority. This also explains the lack of any measurable increase in ATC productivity, more than 10 years after FAA finally achieved an accounting system that it could use to analyze and improve its operations. But there appears to be no motivation to use it for that purpose.

The I.G. report made nine recommendations, with which FAA concurred—”we promise to do better next time.” But none of them address the underlying cause of the problem. So there is no reason to expect that similar problems won’t occur in future procurements. Only organizational and funding reform that creates a real customer/provider relationship—and holds program managers accountable for delivering value for money—can address the real problem.

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NATS Responds to AAAA Falsehoods and Distortions

On August 23rd, the Alliance for Aviation Across America (the large majority of whose funding comes from business jet group NBAA) issued a news release titled “ATC Privatization in the UK Has Resulted in a ‘Total Meltdown.'” Having followed NATS’ progress closely, I knew this was untrue, and asked NATS for a response, which arrived just after last month’s newsletter went out. This article is based on their inputs.

First, AAAA claims that ever since creation of NATS as a public-private partnership, it “has had near-constant problems, including widespread delays, technical outages, and stranded passengers.” As its example, it cites the chaos at London Heathrow at the end of May due to a breakdown in British Airways IT systems. NATS points out correctly that this airline problem had nothing to do with NATS.

AAAA quotes a columnist for The Independent writing that “air traffic control (NATS) is in meltdown, short-staffed, and unable to cope.” Her piece alleged that the Civil Aviation Authority found numerous staffing problems “and delays 14 times higher than in the first part of last year, compared to 2015.” NATS responds that the columnist (not a reporter) referred to a CAA report on a particular set of circumstances at Stansted approach control in February 2016, relating to an airspace change that caused unusually high delays that month—and that airlines were warned in advance that this would happen.

Another AAAA allegation is that “parts of the UK ATC system have even been taken over by the German government.” That’s an inflammatory way of noting that control towers in the U.K. are the responsibility of airports, so that NATS must compete with other ANSPs, domestic and foreign, for contracts to operate towers. A division of DFS, the German ANSP, won the contract for tower services at London Gatwick, formerly operated by a division of NATS. Approach control at Gatwick continues to be provided by NATS. And NATS competes for control tower contracts elsewhere, too; it now operates control towers in Spain.

AAAA also claimed that “The privatized UK system now needs modernization and a bailout from the UK government.”  NATS responded that the UK airspace was designed more than 50 years ago and, based on UK government forecasts, will be unable to handle projected aviation growth. NATS will need government cooperation to implement an airspace redesign. “NATS does not require [government] financial support, only political support.” It adds that “privatization means that air traffic control does not cost the public [sector] anything at all—in fact, the UK government, as NATS’ biggest shareholder, has received £210 million in dividends since privatization.”

Next, AAAA repeated the old saw claiming that NATS received a “government bailout” following the collapse in air traffic after 9/11. The company explains that “NATS was refinanced as a result of the massive downturn in traffic following . . . 9/11 . . . which significantly undermined the original business model.” As I have reported elsewhere, the two largest shareholders—the government and the Airline Group—each put in an additional £65 million to stabilize its finances. And NATS has been profitable ever since (and the government has been more than repaid via £210 million in dividends).

AAAA’s release sums up by saying “The example of the UK is exactly why we should not privatize—less stability, more delays, and taxpayers on the hook when it fails.” NATS responds that “This statement is entirely untrue and misrepresentative. The UK system is performing extremely efficiently with among the best delay statistics in Europe. NATS is a profitable company requiring no financial bailouts or government intervention.”

I’m happy to help set the record straight.

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Airports and ATC Corporatization

One of my few criticisms of Nav Canada is that its stakeholder board does not include the airport sector. Last year’s House bill had the same omission, but I’m pleased that this year’s bill—nearing a House vote as I write this—includes airports as a key stakeholder group that gets to nominate a board seat.

Despite this important change, support for ATC corporatization in the airport community is mixed. A number of airport CEOs have issued letters or statements in support of the proposal. They include major hubs like Charlotte-Douglas and also Baltimore-Washington, Pittsburgh, and Richmond. Pittsburgh CEO Christina Cassotis penned a very positive piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July, noting that the ATC system’s “management and funding would be streamlined by taking day-to-day operations of the system out of the politicized federal government.” She also made the analogy between an ATC corporation and independent airport authorities (like her own Allegheny County Airport Authority), governed by a board of directors drawn from industry and government. I have previously written about the 1987 divestiture of Washington Dulles and National Airports from the FAA to a newly created nonprofit airport authority, a precedent for ATC corporatization.

Despite support from some of its leading members, the Airports Council International-North America issued a release opposing the AIRR Act (which includes corporatization), “so long as it does not include the ability for airports to fund critically needed infrastructure projects”—meaning, specifically, an increase in the federal ceiling on airport Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). That’s a serious shortcoming of the bill, in my view. Airlines have lobbied fiercely against any increase in PFCs—even if this were along the lines proposed by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D, OR) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY), under which the federal cap would be removed, in return for which large hubs (which could then entirely self-fund) would no longer get federal AIP grants.

Small-government conservatives should go for that in a heartbeat, as should taxpayer groups. That change might reduce AIP from the current $3.5 billion per year to more like $2.7 billion, which is about what the current segment tax brings in per year. While ATC corporatization would end the need for most of the current aviation excise taxes, there would still need to be some kind of user tax to support AIP in whatever form it continues. Being able to keep just one of the many aviation taxes—like the segment fee—is the simplest and cleanest approach. But it requires having large hubs graduate from AIP to greater use of PFCs.

Incidentally, uncertainty over the future size of AIP is the only specific reason given by the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) for its opposition to the House bill. Clarifying AIP’s future tax support is unfinished business for the FAA reauthorization effort.

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The “More Runways” Canard

Over many years of discussing and debating ATC reform, I can’t count the number of times opponents have derided the ability of better ATC technology and procedures to reduce flight delays. To these critics, runway capacity is fixed, and the only real answer to congestion and delays is building more runways. While more runway capacity would make a big difference, a well-funded, customer-focused ATC system could do a lot to increase the hourly throughput of existing runways.

Modest increases are already being achieved thanks to an international effort called RECAT, which sets more realistic separation standards between pairs of aircraft arriving or departing a runway (to avoid dangerous wake turbulence). RECAT is a joint effort of Eurocontrol, FAA, and industry. Its first U.S. implementation, at Memphis, led to up to 15% greater runway throughput during peak periods for major carrier FedEx. In general, RECAT provides at least 5% throughput increase. FAA reports RECAT is in effect at 19 major U.S. airports thus far, including all three serving the highly congested New York metro area.

A second effort is under way by NASA and FAA, called Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstration (ATD). The first phase, ATD-1, focuses on increasing runway arrival rates by tightening in-trail spacing. Its Flight Deck Interval Management (FIM) program found that tightening up speed control in the arrivals stream by 6 seconds can increase landings by 11 per hour—not too shabby. FIM relies on ADS-B/In for merging and spacing, along with software tools for controllers and some new cockpit hardware. (ATD-2, getting under way at Charlotte, focuses on drastic reductions in the “conga line” of planes waiting on taxiways to depart, using new tools called Integrate Arrival, Departure, and Surface (IADS); the intent is to give each aircraft an optimal push-back time, to permit it to taxi out and take off with minimal waiting. ATD-3 will focus on the en-route environment.)

A third way to increase the throughput of existing runways used to be featured as a key NextGen component, called Equivalent Visual Operations (EVO). Runway throughput is significantly lower at most airports during Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) than during Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC). Charts showing the difference for a number of major airports appear in Appendix C of Terminal Chaos by George L. Donohue and Russell D. Shaver III (AIAA, 2008). If technology enables landings (in particular) at the same rate in IMC as in VMC, over the course of a year there would be significantly less delay at a given airport. Without much fanfare, FAA safety regulators put into effect a new rule back in March that allows Enhanced Flight Vision Systems (EFVS) to be used by airliners and business jets instead of natural vision all the way to touchdown and rollout. Combined vision systems (CVS) are now allowed as part of the technology for this. As John Croft explained in Aviation Week (Jan. 23-Feb. 5, 2017), “A CVS fuses synthetic vision (a 3-D vision of the view forward using digital terrain elevation and obstacle databases) with enhanced vision systems (IR cameras, radar-based systems, etc.) for improved situational awareness and flight guidance in all phases of flight.”

One other way to reduce congestion and delays is to redesign terminal airspace in metro areas where flight paths to multiple airports conflict with one another. The most egregious of these conflicts occur in the New York/New Jersey metro area—the source of more than 40% of airspace congestion and delays nationwide. FAA’s Air Traffic Organization is under way on a program called Metroplex, aimed at streamlining the airspace in large metro areas with multiple commercial and large general aviation airports. Incredibly, its map of the overall Metroplex program excludes the New York region. It’s hard to imagine a customer-focused ANSP ignoring (or at best, leaving until last) the largest source of congestion and delays confronting its customers.

Yes, it would be great to add a runway at places like JFK and Newark. But until and unless the politics of that issue change significantly, adding runways at busy airports will remain the exception, rather than the rule. So it’s good to know that meaningful increases in runway throughput are possible via new ATC technologies and procedures. A well-funded, customer-focused ATC corporation will accelerate these developments.

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Bookends on ATC Reform

The illustration below shows two covers of Reason magazine, each focused on US aviation policy. The September 1969 story was my first published article anywhere. Its main policy focus was the case for airline deregulation (which took place in 1978), but it also discussed the potential for privatizing airports and air traffic control. At the time I wrote the article, I was a young engineer, fresh out of MIT and working as a systems analyst at Sikorsky Aircraft. I had access to an excellent in-house aviation library, which I used to research that article.

The second article is the cover story of Reason‘s November 2017 issue. It recounts the history of attempts over several decades to divest the ATC function from safety regulator FAA and convert it into a self-supporting ANSP, like those of 60 other countries that have made this change over the last 30 years. It also delves into the interest-group politics that are still impeding the latest effort to bring about this much-needed reform.

If you are not a Reason subscriber, you can download the current article at www.reason.com/archives/2017/09/26/your-flight-is-delayed.

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News Notes

28 FAA Extensions in 10 years. At the end of September, Congress passed and the President signed a six-month extension of FAA’s current authorization. The current Sept. 30th expiration was the result of last year’s 12-month extension—and may not be the last for this go-round, if Congress is still fighting over various policy issues by next March 31. Since an FAA reauthorization expired on Sept. 30, 2007, there have been 28 such extensions, many of them very short-term. This is no way to run a high-tech service business like air traffic control, which is why over 60 countries have de-politicized their ATC systems over the past 30 years.

Seven New Members of FAA Management Advisory Council. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao on September 28th announced the names of seven new members of the 13-member FAA MAC, which advises the agency on a wide array of issues. The new members are: Richard DeVos (Windquest Group), Huntley Lawrence (Port Authority of New York & New Jersey), Donna McLean (former DOT CFO), Will Ris (former government affairs VP, American Airlines), Jeff Shane (former DOT Undersecretary for Policy), Phillip Trenary (former CEO, Pinnacle Airlines), and Brian Wynne (CEO, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International). Congratulations to all.

Space-Based ADS-B Progress. In mid-September Aireon announced yet another Memorandum of Understanding with an air navigation service provider considering subscribing to its global ADS-B surveillance: Turkey’s DHMI. Its airspace borders the dense airspace of Eurocontrol. Aireon is also anticipating the third launch, this month, of another batch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to make up the new 66-satellite constellation Aireon will use, beginning in late 2018, to provide global ADS-B coverage. FAA has not yet figured out whether or how it will subscribe to this new service.

Union Support for ATC Corporatization. The air traffic controllers’ union, several pilots’ unions, and the flight attendants’ union all support converting the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization into a federally chartered, self-supporting nonprofit corporation, similar to Nav Canada. In an insightful op-ed in Eno Transportation Weekly (Sept. 25th), Rob Puentes and Rui Neiva explain why these groups support corporatization, despite the opposition of several other government employee unions. The piece is available on the Eno Center for Transportation website, https://enotrans.org/article/op-ed-labor-support-corporatizing-air-traffic-control.

New Report on Competition in Control Tower Service. The relatively new ATM Policy Institute in Europe last month released “Liberalizing Terminal Air Navigation Services,” a 20-page white paper. It recounts the recent expansion of tower competition in Europe and provides a discussion of potential benefits, including cost savings, from making tower services contestable. It also includes a section suggesting that the development of remote (virtual) tower technology may stimulate an expanded market for competition in tower services. This white paper is available online at www.atmpolicy.aero/publications.

India Considering Remote Towers for Regional Airports. The Airports Authority of India has launched a study of the potential for using remote tower technology to expand modern control tower capabilities to a wider array of regional airports across the subcontinent. AAI is working with air-safety regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation on the study, and is seeking information from companies and ANSPs that are already involved with remote towers.

Extended Arrivals Management Expanding in Europe. Although the planned Single European Sky has not materialized, some good cross-border results are occurring within some of the Functional Airspace Blocs, which include the ANSPs of neighboring countries. One of these is FABEC, which is making good progress on extended (cross-border) arrivals management (XMAN) to major hub airports. The aim is to adjust flight speeds in real time to reduce or eliminate holding patterns and vectors when a plane nears its arrival airport. Control centers in Langen and Munich (Germany), Maastricht (Netherlands), and Reims (France) have implemented XMAN for Frankfurt, London Heathrow, and Munich—and recently added Zurich. Next up is arrivals flow to Frankfurt from Belgian/Dutch airspace.

German ANSP to Train Controllers for U.K. Service. DFS, the ANSP for Germany, last year won contracts to operate the control towers at London Gatwick Airport and Edinburgh Airport in Scotland. Training for the first batch of controllers got under way in July at DFS’s academy in Langen, Germany. The program has been approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and the German Federal Supervisory Authority for air navigation services. The agreement with the CAA applies to all British airports, in case DFS’s Air Navigation Solutions division wins additional tower contracts there.

Flyers for Fairness Takes on Business Jet Arguments. A new organization in the ATC corporatization battle was unveiled September 1st. Flyers for Fairness is challenging false and misleading claims about the current ATC reform effort put forth primarily by the National Business Aviation Association. Subscribers to this newsletter have read a number of debunkings of such claims over the past two years. FFA aims to reach a larger audience. The website is http://www.flyersforfairness.org.

Europe’s Airlines Seek Relief from ATC Strike Disruptions. Most unions at ANSPs in Europe have a legal right to strike. This right is seldom exercised—except in France. As Airlines for Europe has pointed out, two-thirds of all ATC strike days since 2004 have taken place in France. “More than 250 strike days since 2004 are enough,” said A4E’s managing director, Thomas Reynaert. Ryanair called on the European Commission to make three changes: (1) require French ATC unions to engage in binding arbitration instead of strikes, (2) allow other ANSPs to operate flights over France when French unions strike and (3) protect overflights via minimum service obligations during French strikes.

Cross-Border ATC Cooperation in Africa and South America. Air Traffic Management (Quarter 2, 2017) reports promising developments involving ANSP cooperation. In Africa, the 11 members of COMESA (in eastern and central Africa) announced plans to establish seamless upper airspace, with a common international control center. Not quite as ambitious is a four-nation agreement among the ANSPs of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, which have agreed to cooperate to improve air navigation service in their large portion of South America.

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Quotable Quotes

“Some argue that we need to keep the current structure in place and invest more in it. Unfortunately, that’s the equivalent of throwing good money after bad. Congress is already several billion dollars behind in getting systems for which they appropriated taxpayer money. I’ve witnessed the professionalism and dedication of our FAA employees and controllers first-hand. This is not an indictment of them—the problem is the inert procurement and financing structure that hinders modernization efforts. In fact, the situation has gotten so bad that the FAA can’t recruit new controllers. This is an unsustainable status quo.”
—David Grizzle, former COO, FAA Air Traffic Organization, Chicago Business, September 8, 2017

“American ATC is stuck in the 1950s. Unbelievably enough, in the age of computers, U.S. air traffic controllers still hand each other little slips of paper to track aircraft locations . . . The solution to this problem, a commonsense idea that’s been on the table for years, is to divorce ATC functions from FAA’s mission of ensuring air safety. This would rescue reform efforts from stifling FAA bureaucracy, federal procurement and personnel rules, and partisan politics. A private/public partnership—not a for-profit organization—would enable us to move to a more workable system, similar those that have been doing an exemplary job of controlling air traffic flows in more than 50 other countries for years, including our good neighbor Canada.”
—Steve Forbes, Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media, “U.S. Air Traffic Control Isn’t Working; Here’s How to Fix It,” Daily Record (New Jersey), Sept. 1, 2017

“Ironically, one of the major roadblocks for FAA is Congress itself. Under the current framework, the legislature must authorize all the funding for air traffic control, with decision-making shared among five different committees in the House and Senate. This sets up constant battles between the authorizers and the appropriators about what can be spent and who pays for what. This kind of sausage-making may be the new norm in Washington, but it is incompatible with what a national commission referred to as a ’24 hour-a-day, high technology, rapidly changing operating system for a major commercial industry.’ An independent air traffic control operator, albeit under the tight safety oversight of the FAA, would have an independent budget that does not depend on the unpredictability of Congress. Providing airspace stakeholders an opportunity to be represented on its governing board would ensure that the system would be run based on the interest of its users and would facilitate modernization.”
—Robert Puentes and Rui Neiva, “Time for More On-Time Flights,” U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 1, 2017

“Whereas in 1995, only four countries had spun off air traffic control, now more than 60 have done so. Canada’s non-governmental air traffic control provider, the model for the House bill, is handling 50 percent more traffic with 30 percent fewer people than in 1996, and it beats the FAA on unit costs, despite its smaller scale. Scott McCartney, who writes the Wall Street Journal‘s ‘Middle Seat’ column, observed that flying north to south over the US-Canadian border “is like time travel for pilots [as] you leave a modern air-traffic control system run by a company and enter one run by the government struggling to catch up.”
—Dorothy Robyn, “Take Back Air Traffic Control,” The Detroit News, Sept. 19, 2017

“Proposals to modernize the system would transfer authority for managing all but the safety functions of ATC from the FAA to a federally chartered, nonprofit entity where NextGen improvements could be deployed more swiftly, minimizing flight delays, reducing fuel consumption, and lowering carbon emissions. Everyone benefits from an ATC system that is state-of-the-art, agile, sustainable, and safe—and the system’s users should pay their fair share for its maintenance. As Congress advances proposals to transform our nation’s ATC, the NBAA needs to put aside the interests of corporate jet owners and support a proposal that will benefit the rest of the country—which flies coach.”
—Drew Johnson, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, “Why Are Private Jets Being Subsidized by You and Me?” Newsweek.com, July 30, 2017

“CANSO firmly believes that [Air Navigation Service Providers] should be allowed to operate as normal businesses with a focus on the customer and on performance in service delivery. Rather than relying too heavily on regulatory mechanisms, policy makers should consider the various elements of good governance that drive ANSP performance, including the separation of regulation from service provision.”
—Jeff Poole, Director General, CANSO, “Financial Fair Play,” Airspace, Issue 38, quarter 3, 2017

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