Commentary

ATC safety debate continues

When Al Gore and four former FAA administrators advocate corporatizing air traffic control it gets tougher and tougher for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to paint the push for reform as a right wing plot. As noted in the previous post, NACTA has adopted a strategy that will likely backfireââ?¬â??the union’s slamming ATC outsourcing on safety grounds. Reason’s Bob Poole explains: The union claims the safety of our air traffic system is being compromised and “sold to the lowest bidder.” But a mountain of evidence shows otherwise. Earlier this year NATCA’s president asked the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to review cost and safety issues associated with the Contract Tower Program. And the union has now learned that you should be careful what you ask for. The Inspector General’s report, released earlier this month, found that contract towers had significantly lower error rates than similar union-staffed FAA towers: contract towers experienced 0.49 errors for every million operations handled; comparable FAA towers had considerably higher error rates – 2.03 incidents per million operations. In addition to better safety and performance, the contract towers also cost one-third as much to operate as comparable FAA-run towers, saving taxpayers $917,000 per tower. That’s because FAA towers tend to be much more generously staffed, and union controllers earn higher wages. Aviation experts have long recognized that our air traffic system is in desperate need of improvement and new technology. In 2001, a dozen retired senior FAA officials, including four former Administrators, released a statement urging air traffic reforms, saying, “Air traffic control is a 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week high-tech service business. It can and should be operated by a separate corporate entity, paid directly by its customers, and directly accountable to its customers for its performance. This country can no longer afford to provide this 21st-century service using a 1950s-type organizational and funding approach.” Read Poole’s entire article here.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.