Chris Edwards CATO
New Study on Air Traffic Control Reform
January 17, 2014
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  • Robert Poole is one the nation’s top experts on privatization and transportation policy reform. He has a great new Hudson Institute study on problems with our air traffic control (ATC) system and ideas for restructuring it. The nation’s ATC system is operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Here are some of Bob’s findings:

    The features and procedures of our government-run ATC system “have remained remarkably unchanged through a half century of dramatic advances in technology” elsewhere in the economy.

    Our ATC system “has fallen well behind the capacity of new technologies to provide  safer, faster, more reliable, and more fuel efficient air travel and to keep up with the increasing volume of air travel.”

    “Nearly all communications are still by voice radio, despite the ubiquity of text messaging and its greater ease and accuracy for routine communications.”

    “Radar remains the principal means of aircraft position surveillance, despite the much greater accuracy of GPS and other systems.”

    The FAA “is slow to embrace promising innovations in outside research organizations or private-sector companies.”

    The FAA “does a poor job of procuring new technology, with many programs eventually cancelled or emerging years late at inflated cost.”

    The FAA “is particularly resistant to high-potential innovations that would disrupt its own institutional status quo.”

    Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and Germany are doing a better job of embracing new technologies for ATC. These countries have restructured their systems as self-supporting organizations outside of their government bureaucracies.

    Ultimately, the culprit for America falling behind on ATC is not the FAA, but Congress. Congress has its head buried in the sand. Aviation demand is rising and our government-run system is not up to the challenge. ATC is an increasingly dynamic, high-tech business, and it is too important to consign to the lethargy, inefficiency, and bungling that dominates so many Washington bureaucracies.    For more, see this study on airport and ATC reform, and this op-ed on privatizing ATC. Bob’s work at the Reason Foundation is here.