The Trump Administration’s push to privatize our nation’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) is anchored in a narrative of inefficiency across the Federal government. Those in favor of ATC privatization cite improvements to program delays and general bureaucratic bog down as reasons for privatizing a major component of our aviation system. As Americans, we tend to be receptive to such government criticism, but in the case of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our Air Traffic Control, the criticism misses the mark.
ATC privatization proponents propagate the idea that the FAA is unable to implement critical technology upgrades and that privatization will iron out perceived inefficiencies without any impact on the American public. This is simply not true. We need to consider the functionality of a system managed by disparate entities with differing objectives as well as the security repercussions of such a move—with bottom lines and profitability factored in, can our air travelers be guaranteed the highest degree of safety?
As someone who has navigated the intersection of commercial and national security spaces for over twenty years, I recognize the competencies of private industry. Yet, in this particular instance, national security considerations must win out. The FAA’s NextGen Modernization Program has achieved numerous programmatic milestones, optimizing the technologies that help pilots and air traffic controllers create a safer, more efficient National Airspace System (NAS). The FAA has already measured $1.6 billion in benefits to airlines and the traveling public from the NextGen capabilities put in place. These updates, however, are only as effective and unified as the personnel and Departments using them.
Air Traffic Control professionals, supported and screened by the Federal government, ensure our air system—the busiest in the world—is managed with a security-first approach. Under the current proposal, a private ATC system would be managed by a board of airline and airport representatives. Privatizing this component of the FAA, incorporating these financial objectives, could greatly compromise the standard of safety we’ve grown expect from our air system.
One thing all sides agree on is the need to continue implementing the latest technology across the NAS. The FAA has demonstrated that their priorities for deploying new technology capabilities benefit the operators and the public. There is a well-defined plan in place and maintaining full and complete continuity is necessary to continue the program. Privatizing the system will only lead to confusion of air traffic priorities—the safety and security of all air travelers. We cannot afford to lose sight of this.
Vince Hurley has spent over two decades working in government and the commercial sector, including most recently in Adobe in their Public Sector – National Security Group.