NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Privatization Could Free Up Air Travel

October 9, 2000

Flight delays this summer topped last year's unenviable record. The airlines blame the weather and the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system. The FAA blames airline overscheduling. Analysts agree with both.

  • The air traffic control system is constrained by the structure of air corridors and minimum vertical separation distances between flights -- neither of which is operating close to capacity.
  • The long-outdated computer system also needs to be replaced.
  • The government-run system can't deploy technology at the required pace and has little management flexibility.
  • As for overcrowding, airlines can schedule flights whenever they want, and with few exceptions, the FAA has control over scheduling.

Some analysts believe the answer could lie with the creation of a quasi-public, quasi-corporate air traffic control authority, charged with operating and financing the air traffic control system and authorized to raise capital when needed.

They point to the success of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs Dulles International and Reagan National Airports. A key factor of its success is that it forces airlines to pay the costs of the services they use. Unlike the current system, airlines pay more for flights during peak periods. Thus, air traffic control costs are recouped based on the number of flight operations and the time of day they occur.

Source: David T. Ralston (chairman, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority), "Privatization Could Bring Friendlier Skies," Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2000.

 

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