NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Improving Air Traffic Control

June 23, 2003

The safety of Air Traffic Control (ATC) could be improved, while increasing safety, says Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation. In 2001, a dozen retired senior Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, including four former administrators, said that, "Air traffic control...can and should be operated by a separate corporate entity, paid directly by its customers, and directly accountable to its customers for its performance."

  • More than 200 small U.S. airports use non-union, private air traffic controllers, and the private towers cost less than half as much to run as comparable FAA towers.
  • In 2000 and 2001, the average error rate at generously staffed, union operated FAA towers was more than twice as high as the error rates at private towers.
  • ATC has been successfully corporatized, rather than being a tax-funded government bureaucracy in 29 countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Canada and New Zealand.
  • Both the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transport Association, two of aviation's most important bodies, endorse this global shift toward corporatization.

Britain, Australia and Canada have all reduced costs since reorganizing their systems:

  • In Australia, operating costs are down 26 percent -- while handling much more air traffic.
  • In Canada, user fees are less than the taxes they replaced and operational irregularities have decreased since NavCanada, a nonprofit corporation, took over.

Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, former Vice President Al Gore, and the Reason Foundation, among others, have called for reform of the ATC system. However, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association lobbied to add a provision in the Senate to the current FAA Reauthorization Bill that would classify ATC as "an inherently governmental function." Which it isn't.

Source: Robert Poole (Reason Foundation), "Ensuring friendly skies," Washington Times, June 17, 2003.


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