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Time to privatize nation's air traffic control

Friday , July 20, 2018 - 12:00 AM


The Trump administration revived calls for privatizing air traffic control services last month as part of a broader proposal to reorganize and modernize the federal government.

The report, "Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century," renews the White House's commitment to seeing America join the rest of industrialized world by moving away from the taxpayer-funded, Federal Aviation Administration-run air traffic control system toward a non-profit system funded by user fees.

As the report notes, approximately 60 countries have shifted responsibility for air traffic control from government to non-governmental providers. Starting with New Zealand in 1987, countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland the United Kingdom have turned over air traffic control to self-sustaining non-governmental operators.

By doing this, other countries have freed air traffic control operations from the constraints of a government entity subject to the whims of Congress to better reflect the actual needs of consumers. As Bob Poole from the Reason Foundation told us last year, "ATC is a high-tech service business that in the U.S. is trapped in a tax-funded regulatory bureaucracy."

Among the many consequences of these constraints, the American air traffic control system has long lagged behind other countries in incorporating modern technology into its operations.

"Our current air traffic control technology is a dinosaur compared to other countries' systems," noted Rep. Bill Shuster in an op-ed for The Hill. "American air traffic controllers use WWII-era radar technology as the backbone of our system to manage the most congested airspace in the world."

That could and should end if responsibility for air traffic control is spun off from the FAA and converted to a nonprofit corporation model similar to the system used in Canada, as supported by the Trump administration.

Nav Canada, created in 1996, is responsible for the second-largest navigation service by traffic volume in the world. Named a "global leader in delivering top class performance" by the International Air Transport Association, Nav Canada is funded by customers, not by government.

As a result, Nav Canada has kept ahead of the curve on adopting the latest technologies, yielding better service and greater efficiencies. It's a model the U.S. should follow.

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