Guest Commentary: The Reality of Privatized Air Traffic Control
January 15, 2016
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  • Re: “A new way to control airline traffic,” Dec. 27 guest commentary.

    This guest commentary on the nation’s air traffic control system unfortunately painted a rosy picture of privatization based on foreign models that would be far from reality for small businesses, consumers and communities across our state.

    First, as someone who used to work with Canada’s privatized air traffic control system, I can tell you that it and other privatized systems around the world are not the utopian models that proponents have made them out to be.

    In Canada, the system stumbled financially and required support to remain solvent. The UK’s privatized system needed unexpected financial bailouts from government and taxpayers, because its supposedly stable funding streams proved volatile.

    A report published this year by the UK’s own Airports Commission states that the system is “showing unambiguous signs of strain,” producing “more delays, higher fares and reduced connectivity” at London’s airports.

    As for America’s aviation system? The U.S. manages nearly 20 percent of the world’s airspace, including some of the most complex, densely traveled airspace anywhere. This is four times the number of flights handled in Canada, and more than 10 times the number handled in the UK.

    Denver’s busiest airport, Denver International Airport, handles more than 25 percent more aircraft than are handled by Canada’s busiest airport, Toronto, and 19 percent more aircraft than the UK’s busiest airport, Heathrow.

    Moreover, our system serves the public benefit, not the business benefits of one aviation-stakeholder group such as the airlines. In a system set up differently from ours, there could be no guarantee that connectivity to small airports, towns and communities would be as robust as it is today, or that vital public-benefit flying would be as available as it is now, or even that airline customers’ interests would be best served.

    As we work to continue modernizing the U.S. system, let’s base discussions about modernization on facts, and on fixing what is broken, instead of on distracting arguments about aviation systems with their own imperfect histories.

    Denver-area businessman and resident Iver Retrum was the founding chair of the Colorado Aviation Business Association, as well as a founding Board member-treasurer of the Colorado General Aviation Alliance.