NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Consolidation of Air Traffic Control Facilities Could Save Billions

April 8, 2013

U.S. airspace has been managed by an antiquated air traffic control system from the 1960s that relies on analog equipment. Already, the United States is in transition to an entirely new system, the NexGen system, which will switch air traffic management from a ground-based system to a satellite-based system. As this paradigm shift occurs, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can realize billions of dollars a year in operating cost savings if it reorganizes its existing infrastructure, say Michael Harrison, Ira Gershkoff, Gary Church and Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation.

  • The new system will allow flights to travel from point to point directly, not along the inefficient routes used currently.
  • The system will also enable far more precise surveillance of aircraft positions and digital communications instead of voice.
  • With the new high-tech system, an air traffic controller will not have to be located in the vicinity of the planes he or she is managing.

Currently, the air traffic control system has 20 en-route Air Route Traffic Control Centers and 167 Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACONs), many of which are in need of major refurbishment if kept in service.

  • Harrison, Gershkoff, Church and Poole call to shut down many of the facilities, reducing the current number in operation from 187 to five high-altitude Traffic Control Centers, eight Integrated Control Facilities and 38 consolidated TRACONs.
  • Previous studies have already indicated that the larger the Traffic Control Center or TRACON, the higher its productivity.
  • Consolidating the current system into fewer Traffic Control Centers that are larger would result in $314 million in annual savings from economies of scale.

Under the proposed program, the savings from fully implementing NexGen technology could total between $540 million and $680 million per year with an additional savings of $109 million per year in equipment and facility maintenance fees.

  • One time savings from consolidation would total $1.7 trillion and the annual savings would total about $1 billion per year.
  • Currently, the FAA has not made any progress in deciding which facilities to close and which to consolidate.
  • Congress needs the FAA to develop a plan that will facilitate airspace reconfiguration and a process to permit large-scale consolidation.

If current air traffic control facilities are not consolidated, the productivity and cost benefits of the NexGen system could be lost, creating a very expensive high-tech system.

Source: Michael Harrison et al., "The Case for Air Traffic Control Facility Consolidation," Reason Foundation, April 3, 2013.


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