Air Traffic Control Reform

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration proposed restructuring our air traffic control (ATC) system, creating a self-funded organization outside of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The idea went nowhere in Congress at the time.

Since then, numerous countries have successfully privatized their ATC systems, including Britain and Canada. Meanwhile, our ATC is still trapped inside the FAA bureaucracy, and it continues to fall short on crucial technology upgrade projects.

The good news is that major restructuring is back on the agenda in Congress. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, Bill Shuster, is expected to soon unveil a major reform proposal, perhaps along the lines of Canada’s non-profit ATC corporation, Nav Canada. The FAA must be reauthorized by the end of March, which gives some momentum to reform. If President Obama wants an important pro-growth legacy in his final year in office, he should get behind this effort.

Canada’s ATC privatization has been a huge success. In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, the head of Nav Canada, John Crichton said, “This business of ours has evolved long past the time when government should be in it … Governments are not suited to run … dynamic, high-tech, 24-hour businesses.” Exactly—and for all the reasons I discuss here.

Please join us Thursday for a Capitol Hill forum to discuss these issues (Rayburn B-354, noon). We will hear from two top experts. Dorothy Robyn was a top economic advisor to both Presidents Clinton and Obama, and she wrote an excellent study on ATC reform for Brookings. Stephen Van Beek is a long-time aviation industry expert.