Could a Privatized Aircraft Traffic Control System Be on the Horizon?
During the Clinton administration’s reign, a proposal was released recommending provisions to restructure the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system and make it a private business. It called for an air traffic corporation that is efficient, financially safe, and technologically equipped to maintain, operate, and grow the currently inefficient system. In 1994, the study was important, but over the years it continued to be buried and revived multiple times through endless bureaucracy and political debate.
What’s wrong with the current ATC system?
- Out-of-date technology
- Unable to handle weather issues
- Inefficient and expensive
The current system is not unsafe, but airplanes have unnecessarily long routings and padded schedules to accommodate potential delays. Simply put, the system is inefficient, poorly managed, and less than modern. The problem has been exacerbated by three decades of failed programs, missed deadlines, and canceled solutions. But, if done well, the new system would mean leaving all the bedraggled Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) baggage behind.
The fight isn’t over yet, and it has pitted commercial and private aviation groups against the U.S. government.
Overcoming red tape
The Department of Transportation inspector general recently delivered a report on the FAA’s shortcomings and failed attempts to deliver a modernized ATC system. While business aviation groups are stepping up their opposition to a proposal to create an independent organization to run the U.S. ATC system, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) has stated the desire to make such a proposal the centerpiece of a comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill expected to be released early in 2016.
While no one disagrees that the current system needs to be overhauled, it is far from clear whether the end solution will be an independent organization or a revamped governmental one.