Planes Barely Avoid Mid-Air Collision

The AP reports on a near mid-air collision that saw two planes come within 400 feet of each other. As air traffic becomes ever more congested, it’s absurd that we still rely on a 1960s’-design air traffic control system. That system uses very imprecise radar to tell controllers approximately where planes are, and relies on these controllers to keep them far enough apart to avoid colliding. This “by-hand” operation urgently needs replacing by a 21st century air traffic management system that relies on (a) far more precise augmented GPS to keep track of plane locations in real-time, (b) digital communications for faster and more accurate exchange of information, and (c) automation of routine separation functions to get beyond the limitations of how many moving targets the controller can keep track of in his head. Nearly all the technology to do this is in hand, and the NextGen system concept is being finalized by an interagency group that includes NASA, DOD, and the FAA. But unless Congress enacts fundamental reforms in how air traffic control is funded and governed, it will be at least 20 years before we see anything like the NextGen system in place. So expect more near-misses and some crashes as the airways become ever more congested and the obsolete 20th century system becomes ever more overburdened. Reason Foundation’s Air Traffic Control Reform Research

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.