Steve Watkins: Don’t Privatize Air Traffic Control
September 19, 2017
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  • Congress is considering legislation that would privatize our air traffic control system. HR 2997, the 21st Century AAIR Act, would turn the system over to a public/private board controlled by the airline industry and other special interests.

    Support for privatization of our air traffic control system is, for some proponents, anchored by the argument that air traffic control in this country is somehow mired in the 1960s and that our own Federal Aviation Administration is incapable of moving us into the 21st century. I am concerned that this argument is a patently false idea.

    From trainers to airliners, today we’re flying almost exclusively based on satellite navigation. That didn’t even exist in the early 1980s, let alone the ’60s! Back then, air traffic control’s radar network was limited and ground based. That system is being replaced by satellite-based ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast) technology that provides better coverage, faster updates, and many other benefits — including traffic and weather data beamed directly into the cockpit.

    How about the air traffic control towers? We’re starting to utilize remote towers that don’t even require the physical presence of a controller at the airport. Would that have been possible in the 1960s? From notice to airmen and weather dissemination to airspace design, virtually nothing of the old system is still in use.

    Very high frequency voice communication represents one of the few exceptions, but even that is being supplanted, especially on oceanic routes. The essential point here is that our air traffic control system is not stuck in the 1960s.

    Sure, we have plenty of traffic delays in aviation. Much of that is due to weather — something no air traffic control “reform” is going to fix. The rest of the congestion is due to a lack of runway and airport capacity.

    Remember all those airports that were closed? They were called “relievers” for a reason. All those runway and airport expansion ideas that were quashed? You see the result every time you’re No. 10 in line for departure at a major airport.

    If you want to look at facts — and I hope you do — then the answer is clear: America’s air traffic control system is the largest, safest, most efficient, and modern one on Earth.

    For those of you who want to act to prevent privatization of our air traffic control system I suggest that you write our congressman, Ted Yoho, and tell him you oppose HR 2997, the 21st Century AAIR Act.

    Steve Watkins lives in Gainesville.