- How to fix New York’s airport congestion
- Why FAA’s budget is broken
- FAA’s remote tower debacle, continued
- New technology for runway incursions
- Will Congress address FAA’s ATC problems?
- News notes
- Quotable quotes
How to Fix New York’s Airport Congestion
Responding to the likelihood of massive summer-season travel delays at New York’s metro area airports, on March 27, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) invited airlines to voluntarily reduce the number of flights at Newark (EWR), LaGuardia (LGA), John F. Kennedy (JFK), and Reagan National Airport (DCA). To entice their cooperation, FAA will grant a waiver to the normal “use-it-or-lose-it” rule for slots at these congested airports.
In the weeks that followed, American, Delta, and United each accepted the offer and announced cuts in their flight frequencies for the summer season (May 15 – Sept. 15). To the extent possible, those three carriers will “up-gauge” service to those airports, substituting larger airliners where available. United, for example, will shift some flights from 50-seat regional jets to 76-seaters; American and Delta hope to shift from smaller A-319s to larger A-320s or from smaller to larger 737s. JetBlue is going along with reducing frequencies, even though it has far less ability to up-gauge. It operates an all-narrow-body fleet and has no regional jets at its disposal.
The immediate cause of the predicted congestion is a significant shortage of air traffic controllers at New York TRACON (N90). Staffing there is only 54% of the norm for fully trained air traffic controllers. That facility deals with the most congested air traffic region in North America, requiring the most-capable controllers. In addition to the grueling workload, many controllers are unable to find affordable housing on Long Island.
FAA is working with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to revise the agency’s staffing targets for all its facilities, but that is a work in progress. FAA is also considering moving control of the Newark terminal area airspace from New York TRACON to the Philadelphia TRACON, but there are complex trade-offs to consider in such a shift.
As I have written previously, the greater New York airspace is the source of over 40% of U.S. air traffic delays, in part due to its complexity, including potential interference in flight tracks to and from the various airports in the region, including Westchester and Teterboro. (See “New York Airspace Still a Mess,” Aviation Policy News, Sept. 2022). About two decades ago, FAA launched a nationwide Metroplex program, targeting large metro areas with multiple airports and complex airspace. The idea was to apply new technology and procedures to streamline flows into and out of each region’s airports. Originally, the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia region was included, but it was dropped from the program in 2013 (without a believable explanation), while the other 10 projects have nearly all been completed. Something like Metroplex is still needed for this convoluted, congestion-inducing airspace.
An underlying factor is the limited amount of runway capacity in the New York region. While there have been proposals for an additional runway at JFK, it would be very costly and would face large political opposition. A better long-term solution for airline demand exceeding airport capacity is runway pricing. The slot system is a crude attempt at rationing, with a built-in bias for those who were there first and inevitable decisions about who gets what are made by officials, substituting their judgments for what a market system would deliver.
A runway pricing system would charge different prices at different times of day, the way express toll lanes on scores of freeways do every day across the United States. The variable prices would apply to takeoffs as well as landings since congestion occurs for both. If the revenues were dedicated by law to airport improvements, pricing might raise enough new revenue to pay for at least some new runway capacity (e.g., at JFK, at least).
A detailed simulation exercise, sponsored by FAA in 2005 and organized by researchers from George Mason University and the University of Maryland, recruited airline schedulers and airport officials to make decisions on operating with a runway pricing framework at La Guardia Airport. One of the main findings was that airlines would up-gauge their fleets serving the priced-runway airports. The runway prices would be independent of aircraft gross weight, so it would cost an airline less per passenger to use a 737 instead of a regional jet. Needless to say, runway pricing would replace the slot system, since pricing would do a far better job of allocating scarce runway space. (See “Evidence that Airport Pricing Works.”)
By the way, runway pricing is legal in the United States, for two reasons. First, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has never accepted airline claims that they “own” the slots they use, so they could not claim that abolishing slots amounted to an uncompensated taking of a property right. Second, thanks to work during Mary Peters’ tenure as secretary of transportation, the 2008 change in federal policy to allow runway pricing survived litigation against it by the airlines. Hence, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which manages EWR, JFK, and LGA, could implement runway pricing if it decided it makes sense.
Two recent commentaries crossed my screen recently, both concerning the FAA budget. The first was March testimony by Rich Santa, president of the controllers’ union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last month. He pointed out that, “Despite meeting its self-imposed air traffic controller hiring goals for much of the past decade, FAA has not kept up with attrition. The NAS [National Airspace System] remains near a 30-year low in the number of fully-certified controllers.” He added that today there are 10% fewer fully certified controllers than a decade ago. Among the locations that are woefully short are the New York TRACON and Jacksonville Center, the focal points of serious congestion and delays in recent months.
And on Jan. 20 Jeff Davis of the Eno Center for Transportation posted a commentary headlined, “Air Traffic Control Snafu Illustrates How Operating Programs Always Squeeze Capital Programs.” Davis uses FAA budget numbers dating back to the 1991 fiscal year to show the steady growth in the operating budget, mostly for the Air Traffic Organization, compared with tepid growth in the capital budget (facilities and equipment). In FY 91, the ratio of operations spending to facilities and equipment spending was 1.9. By FY 2021, that ratio had increased to 3.6.
Both NATCA and Eno are correct. Operations and capital have both been given short shrift by Congress. But FAA defenders might respond that ‘Congress always gives us just about everything we ask for.’ That’s true, but it obscures the underlying problem. I got an email on April 4 from a long-time aviation friend, who is retired from a long career with FAA and later as an FAA consultant. He pointed out that:
“FAA has been knowingly under-hiring for years, in an effort to accommodate OMB [Office of Management and Budget] efforts to control discretionary funding. DOT, in support of OMB, also pressured FAA on these unwise budget constraints. The real culprit is FAA itself, which lacked the management fortitude to stand up and fight for its real budget needs without rolling over so easily to DOT/OMB budget needs.”
Former Air Traffic Organization COO David Grizzle penned an excellent commentary on this subject in Aviation Week (Feb. 13-26, 2023): “The FAA’s Funding Conundrum.” Explaining why the dysfunctional NOTAM system has not been replaced, he explained, “Because FAA experiences unrelenting budget pressure, it is forced into a triage process in which it must decide not just which systems need to be updated, but also which ones will do the most damage if they go down because they are not updated. This means programs to bring on new technology tend to be very large because they are very overdue.”
Further on, he adds, “When Congress provides inadequate funding, FAA protects the operation by tapping the F&E budget in a way Congress never intended.”
The underlying reality is that the Air Traffic Organization is a high-tech service business trapped within a government bureaucracy. It’s a public utility, akin to the huge government-owned electric utility Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Imagine trying to run a utility like TVA based on annual appropriations from Congress (constrained by OMB) rather than covering its capital and operating costs from the electric bills paid by its customers. That revenue not only covers TVA’s operating costs; some also gets bonded to enable long-term financing of major capital improvements.
This model is being widely used in air traffic control utilities around the world. A forthcoming report by my Reason colleague Marc Scribner identifies 83 countries now served by air traffic control utilities that operate similarly to electric utilities, including the world’s second-largest air navigation service provider, Nav Canada. Both the Clinton administration and the Trump administration supported converting the U.S. air traffic control system to a public utility model, but status-quo forces prevailed.
In the 2023 FAA reauthorization bill, one step in the right direction would be to separate the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) from FAA, which would, at last, comply with a 2001 International Civil Aviation Organization policy calling for such separation between safety regulation and the provision of ATC services. The independent ATO would also need to be freed from OMB budgetary control, able to request a lump-sum budget from Congress and to ask for increased user taxes to pay for that budget.
Simply giving FAA a bit more money for the next five years would perpetuate a failed status quo.
FAA’s Remote Tower Debacle Continues
Last month’s newsletter covered the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unexpected decision to shut down the successful remote tower (RT) operation at the Leesburg, Virginia, airport. That decision has led to coverage in the Washington Post and opposition from members of Congress, Leesburg officials, and general aviation groups including the National Business Aviation Association.
FAA linked its decision to the announced pull-out by the project’s developer, remote tower pioneer Saab, which has remote towers and two remote tower centers in operation in Sweden, as well as a newer RT handling all tower functions for London City Airport, so far the world’s largest airport served by a remote tower. Without Saab going through an estimated three more years of testing, at an estimated cost of $10 million, FAA said it could not formally certify the remote tower as operational. By FAA logic, that means continued operation would be, by definition, “unsafe.”
What led to Saab’s decision? Aviation sources cite ever-changing FAA requirements. Saab itself noted that after the RT had been operating safely since 2018, “In 2021 FAA published a new certification process, and Saab has been working to meet these requirements ever since. Unfortunately, we recently determined there is no reasonable way forward for approval of the system under these new requirements. . . . We urged FAA to allow the [RT] to continue to operate under the current ‘operational viability’ decision until alternative air traffic control services can be secured.”
Moreover, FAA’s Operational Viability Decision was written so narrowly—only for a single-runway general aviation (GA) airport with a runway no longer than 5,500 feet—that few other GA airports would be candidates for a similar Saab RT after Leesburg eventually gained FAA certification. My guess is that Saab could not see devoting two more years and an additional $10 million when there were few follow-on prospects.
Former FAA chief counsel Sandy Murdock unpacks what’s behind Saab’s statement, in the March 23 issue of JDA Journal. Simply put, FAA has kept changing the rules. In particular, it recently issued new “prescriptive” rules, which “contradicts the agency’s certification discipline [which is] performance-based, not detailed checklists,” Murdock says. He adds, “Type certificates for aircraft used to be determined by applying series of specific criteria. [But] after years of reassessing the regulatory process, policies, and procedures, the world’s civil aviation authorities switched from prescriptive to performance as the guiding principle.”
Another factor not mentioned in Saab’s statement is a recent FAA decision that final certification testing of RTs must be done at the FAA Tech Center in Atlantic City, NJ. This is absurd. The old adage says “When you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.” Final approval testing should obviously be performed at the specific, unique airport the RT is serving. Sources I’ve spoken with suggest that a testing project at the Tech Center, while saving FAA some travel money, might take as long as several years.
The ripple effects of the Leesburg decision pose a risk to other RT projects. On April 11, AINOnline carried David Hughes’ article headlined, “Colorado Airport’s Remote Tower on Life Support.” The remote tower at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in Loveland is being developed by Searidge Technologies, whose RT technology is in place and operational at London Heathrow, Hong Kong International, and Singapore Changi airports. The project has been under way for as long as Leesburg, and has also suffered from changing FAA requirements. It has some features that go beyond Leesburg’s, including additional cameras at runway thresholds and a radar feed. It has not yet received an operational viability decision from FAA, which Leesburg has.
Meanwhile, FAA is eager to fund 29 projects at small airports to move or replace aging control towers. The $20 million in funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Among the projects getting initial grants from this program are Columbus Municipal Airport in Indiana, for a replacement tower due to poor line-of-sight from the existing tower, and the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport in Texas, to relocate the existing tower due to line-of-sight problems. These are obvious candidates for a remote tower replacement, with distributed camera locations. The projects would cost less, and the RT performance would be better, with the inclusion of infrared cameras able to see through rain and fog.
Remote towers are a proven technology that is now being widely implemented in Europe, including in Hungary and Romania. They cost less to build and less to operate, and they have higher capability than conventional bricks & mortar towers. Congress should curtail conventional tower programs and insist that FAA start implementing 21st-century towers.
New Technology for Runway Incursions
In response to the flurry of near-collisions on airport runways in recent months, FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen plans a summer confab of industry experts to come up with better ways to prevent such incidents. Recent articles have pointed out that only 43 of America’s 132 large, medium, and small-hub airports have either ASDE-X or ASSC, two similar systems that use radar, multilateration, and ADS-B data to identify aircraft and ground vehicles, alerting controllers in the tower. The path of least resistance for FAA would be to contract for more of these systems and install them at many more airports.
That’s probably not the best approach. Those systems date back many years and are no longer being produced. FAA does not even have spare parts, and some installations have experienced serious outages in recent years. The system at LAX (a precursor of ASDE-X) was the subject of media attention in 2019, such as a KABC story headlined: “Runway Risks: Old, Failing Ground Radars Increase Risk of Collisions at LAX.”
A serious flaw in the current ASDE-X and ASSC installations is that they can only fully track aircraft, from which they not only see radar images but also ADS-B transmissions that indicate speed, direction, ID, etc. The multilateration (MLAT) component of ASDE-X can provide some information on a ground vehicle (by bouncing radar signals off it) but has no ID or information about what type of vehicle it is.
Many airports in Europe have installed ADS-B “squitters” on all their ground vehicles. That enables them to show up, identified, on controller screens of the airport surface, in real-time. FAA actually produced a specification for “Airport Ground Vehicle Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast-Out (ADS-B Out) Squitter Equipment,” but I’m not aware of any U.S. airports that have bought and installed them. Why not?
For one thing, these devices are not included in eligible projects for Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants. Secondly, they are not included in FAA’s Facilities & Equipment budget because such vehicle identifiers are not considered part of the ATC system. (A consultant friend tells me that ASDE-X was not considered part of ATC until Congress mandated it.) But the larger obstacle is frequency congestion. Commercial airline ADS-B uses the 1090 mHz frequency, which is also used for the airborne collision-alert system TCAS, nearly all aircraft transponders, and nearly all secondary radars in this country. For that reason, when vehicle transponders were proposed years ago, FAA wanted them to broadcast on the 978 mHz frequency used for ADS-B in general aviation aircraft. That would still appear to be a viable option for equipping on-airport ground vehicles.
European airports with Advanced Surface Movement Guidance & Control (A-SMGC) Systems use a combination of ADS-B and MLAT. Saab-Sensis introduced this concept, equipping London Heathrow and Frankfort airports in 2000. Another company providing those systems is ERA from the Czech Republic. It began a series of implementations, beginning with Prague and Amsterdam Schiphol in 2005. Other European airports now equipped include Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, and (last month) Dublin. Beyond Europe, such systems are operational in Johannesburg, Montreal, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Turkey.
This is not rocket science, but it’s a proven system that could replace aging, out-of-production ASDE-X and ASSC with technology in production today and in use worldwide. Congress may have to tell FAA to do this (as it did with ASDE-X), since it would expand the Air Traffic Organization’s scope to the airport surface, again.
Will Congress Address U.S. ATC Problems?
By Marc Scribner
On March 29, I testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at a hearing on “Advancing Next Generation Aviation Technologies.” My full written testimony is available here. What follows is a summary adapted from my opening statement.
The United States was once the global leader in airspace management. However, in recent decades, we have fallen behind peer countries that have modernized their air traffic control practices and technologies.
FAA’s modernization program, known as NextGen, has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. While there are many problems facing FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, they can be grouped into three categories:
- Funding: It’s uncertain, unstable, and poorly suited to paying for large-scale capital modernization programs such as NextGen.
- Governance: We have a system with so many legislative and executive branch overseers that it focuses Air Traffic Organization management attention far more on overseers than on their aviation customers.
- Culture: The Air Traffic Organization has an organizational culture that is very risk-averse and status-quo oriented.
A decade ago, my Reason Foundation colleague Robert Poole conducted an in-depth study of FAA culture and innovation. He identified five detrimental aspects of organizational culture at FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, which were subsequently validated by a panel of more than a dozen expert peer reviewers. Unfortunately, little has changed since then. To improve the provision of air navigation services in the U.S., three fundamental structural reforms are needed:
First, the Air Traffic Organization should be organizationally separated from FAA. Second, funds that support the newly separated Air Traffic Organization should be raised by fees charged directly to users of the system. And third, a new and more responsive governance model for the separated Air Traffic Organization should be established.
These reforms would bring the U.S. into compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization best practices established more than two decades ago, reforms that have been adopted by air navigation service providers managing airspace in 83 countries.
More detail on the global air traffic control landscape can be found in my written testimony, but two areas deserve special attention: space-based ADS-B and remote/digital towers.
Global air traffic satellite surveillance known as space-based ADS-B is currently being provided by Aireon. Aireon’s service went live in March 2019 and is currently in use by numerous countries including Canada, Denmark, India, and the U.K. that collectively manage airspace covering nearly half of the Earth’s surface.
The benefits include shorter trip times, reduced fuel burn, and reduced CO2 emissions. In addition, near-real-time surveillance quickly identifies aircraft that might have deviated from their approved flight tracks, thereby increasing air safety.
In Nov. 2020, the FAA and Aireon announced an agreement under which the agency will use the company’s ADS-B data to analyze possible uses in managing both domestic and oceanic airspaces, but this partnership has yet to bear fruit.
With respect to remote/digital control towers, since the FAA first investigated this technology in 2007, projects have been deployed throughout the world. Remote/digital towers not only offer cost savings by foregoing the expensive traditional control towers, their sensors can provide better visibility—especially at night and in rain or fog with infrared cameras—as well as reduce controller workload.
The first remote tower became operational in Sweden in 2015 and was developed by Saab. A global database currently lists 20 operational remote/digital towers, 24 in development and testing, and another seven in research trials. The U.S. currently has no certified remote towers. Two projects in Leesburg, Virginia, and Loveland, Colorado, have shown promise but have faced major delays and uncertainty.
In February, Romania’s first remote tower went live using Saab technology. Weeks later, FAA announced it was shutting down the Leesburg project effective June 14. The lead vendor for that project, also Saab, had reportedly told FAA last year that it was pulling out of the project after nine years. This is likely because FAA has not provided a clear path to certification.
To conclude, the modernization of existing air traffic management infrastructure in the U.S. continues to fall behind peer countries. The prospect of new airspace entrants raises even more questions about the ability of the U.S. to accommodate the future of aviation.
Wisk Still Committed to Autonomous eVTOL
Reporter Ben Goldstein reports in Aviation Daily (April 14, 2023) that Bryan Yutko, the new CEO of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) startup Wisk, is sticking with the company’s plan to produce only autonomous eVTOL aircraft. All the other leading U.S. eVTOL developers plan to gain FAA certification for piloted versions, and may later apply for autonomous operation. He notes the cost savings of not having a pilot on board, the higher safety standards the Wisk craft is aiming to meet, and the remote monitoring that will be provided, enabling a ground-based operator to take control of the craft in the event of an emergency.
AENA Gains 11 Airport P3 Concessions in Brazil
Spanish airport company AENA, the world’s 2nd-largest by revenue in 2019, has a signed long-term (30-year) public-private partnership concession with the Brazilian government after it won an auction for the airports last summer. The largest of the 11 airports is Conhongas in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s second-largest airport. The 11 airports are located in four Brazilian states (Sao Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, and Para). Brazil’s civil air transport regulator must give its approval prior to AENA beginning to operate the airports.
Air Traffic Control in Ukraine
If Ukraine defeats the Russian invasion and restores civil aviation activity, how will air traffic be managed, given the extensive destruction of ground-based infrastructure? An article in the March 17-April 9 issue of Aviation Week discussed an initial recovery strategy. Eurocontrol suggests, and the Air Traffic Controllers European Unions Coordination (ATCeuc) supports, a recovery plan based on using ADS-B, supplemented by radar coverage from adjacent ANSPs. And the article notes that the recovery plan would begin with space-based ADS-B as provided globally by Aireon.
Major Airspace Redesign Implemented in the U.K.
The United Kingdom’s ANSP, NATS, last month completed the implementation of a major redesign of U.K. airspace over Wales and southwest England. The West Airspace Deployment took four years to develop and implement. It deploys systemization and free route airspace (FRA). Systemization applies to airspace between 7,000 and 24,500 ft. and makes use of Performance-Based Navigation. And FRA is now in place for airspace above 24,500 ft. It removes defined tracks and allows airspace users to fly their preferred route between defined entry and exit points. NATS expects the redesign will reduce CO2 emissions by 12,000 metric tons per year.
Germany’s Hahn Airport Acquired Out of Bankruptcy
Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, 75 miles from Frankfurt, is being acquired by a German company, Triwo Group. Triwo develops real estate, including general aviation airports, which it also operates. It was the highest qualified bidder for Frankfurt-Hahn, whose primary airline customer is Ryanair. Prior to its bankruptcy, China’s HNA Airport Group owned 82.5% of the airport, with the balance owned by the Hesse state government. The latter’s bankruptcy administrator has reorganized the airport and gotten it into the black. It has also managed the process of acquiring a new majority owner.
Eve and Ferrovial Join Forces for U.S. and Europe
Ferrovial Airports and Eve Air Mobility have joined forces to develop vertiports, and Eve, in addition to developing an eVTOL aircraft, has developed urban air traffic management software. Together the companies hope to implement “an agnostic state-of-the-art urban air traffic management system” linked with Ferrovial’s planned networks of vertiports in Europe and the United States.
San Jose Selects Plenary Team for Mineta Airport Downtown Link
San Jose, California, has selected the proposal led by Plenary Americas to develop a transit link between downtown and Mineta International Airport. The winning public-private partnership proposal calls for an autonomous vehicle transportation system, rather than a light rail line. San Jose Connection partners include Glydways (an AV startup), Webcor/Obayashi, HNTB, and ACI. The proposed system would initially transport over 2,000 people per hour in each direction.
Heart Aerospace Signs MOU for Aland Service
The company’s 30-passenger ES-30 electric/hybrid will link the Aland Islands (an autonomous region of Finland in the Baltic Sea) with Stockholm, Helsinki, and Finland’s second and third-largest cities. The ES-30 is a conventional landing/takeoff aircraft with a range of up to 800 kilometers with 25 passengers and reserves. Under the memorandum of understanding, Heart will provide the ES-30s to the Aland Islands government, which will hire third-party operators for subsidized essential air service.
Philippines May Contract Out Operations of Manila Airport
Ninoy Aquino International Airport may be “privatized” via a management contract in the second half of this year, according to the Philippine Star on April 12. Early plans had called for a several-billion-dollar modernization of the airport, but with two new Manila-area airports under development via long-term P3s, the government decided against modernizing the existing airport.
Airport P3s Debated in Puerto Rico
Competing proposals are being debated about how best to improve the commonwealth’s nine regional airports. The Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A) favors packaging all nine airports for modernization under a long-term P3 concession. But legislator Domingo Torres wants to transfer only the Mercedita International Airport to the Ponce Port Authority, which would privatize it alone. Mercedita is the island’s only other airport (besides the already privatized Luis Munoz Marin International Airport) with three commercial airline operators.
Privately Screened U.S. Airports to Drop by One
Last year Great Falls (MT) became the 22nd airport in the Transportation Security Administration’s Screening Partnership Program (SPP), bringing the total back to 22 such airports, after Key West International dropped out in March 2022. However, as of May 1, that number will drop back to 21 when Jackson Hole (WY) Airport must withdraw, and TSA will take over. Jackson Hole was one of the initial pilot project airports allowed by Congress to avoid TSA takeover of airport screening, in the legislation that created TSA and put it in charge of airport screening. Unlike other non-TSA-screened airports, Jackson Hole did not hire a TSA-approved screening company. Instead, it self-provided screening, complying with all TSA requirements and being paid by TSA, which paid for the services of all SPP providers. But with Jackson Hole’s costs rising, TSA decided the requested compensation for 2023 was too high.
“Washington offers no hoarier tale than FAA’s struggles with modernization. London City Airport now has a digital control tower allowing personnel to be used far more efficiently. Canada’s system has been commercially self-funding since 1996 and speedily incorporates new technology. The U.S. still relies on radar operators handing slips of paper to each other. Reforming air traffic control would actually be the best way to enhance competition. Fuel costs and delays would be lessened. Carriers could more quickly deploy planes wherever price signals dictate. . . . In 1993 Vice President Al Gore, as part of his Reinventing Government initiative, attempted a root-and-branch reform of the air traffic control system and succeeded—his idea was adopted in Canada. Donald Trump strove to revive the plan for the U.S. but was thwarted by a pork-barreling Congress.”
—Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., “Mayor Pete Plans Higher Fares,” The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2023
“Regarding Holman Jenkins, Jr.’s ‘Mayor Pete Plans Higher Fares’ (Wall Street Journal, March 29): The U.S. is a laggard on air traffic control compared with the U.K., where both airport and airspace have been privatized, enabling innovation through outcome-based regulation. It is clear to me, as a former COO for London City and Gatwick airports, that U.S. government control of airspace, airfields, and security operations, and the concomitant politicization, will continue to result in higher costs and impaired service levels for passengers.”
—Scott Stanley, “Air Traffic in London vs. U.S.,” Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2023
“I was deeply involved in small community air service. Using the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, I designed Mesa’s initial expansion of Beech 99 service and authored its first formal business plan. The rule limiting Part 135 operations (no more than 10-seat aircraft) significantly reduced incentives to serve small rural communities. Aircraft manufacturers had few incentives to build efficient (and pressurized) aircraft in the 10-seat to 20-seat sector as there was basically no market. . . . Restricting the pilot pool to those with 1,500 hours or more really ‘dropped the hammer’ on small community service. Spending millions of dollars to support small community service is a waste of money, since current airlines don’t want to serve markets that will never be profitable based on the aircraft they operate. Mesa did not enter the EAS program to serve markets that were forever unprofitable. Instead, Congress should divert that money to incentivize aircraft manufacturers to build efficient aircraft for this service sector. And, drop that pilot hours rule to a more sensible level.”
—Phil Roberts, retired airline economist, commentary on online aviation discussion group, March 31, 2023 (used with author’s permission).