Getting Governments Out of Control

Last May, John Doherty described various private-enterprise air traffic control operations throughout the United States ("Towering Entrepreneurs"). Now comes further word of private air traffic control overseas.

Most air traffic control in Britain is handled by a government agency called National Air Traffic Services. But according to H. J. Blanks, the head of Britain's Civil Aviation Policy Directorate, at a number of British airports (aerodromes) air traffic control is provided by outside contractors.

The largest such contractor is International Aeradio Limited (ial), which is responsible for air traffic control at nine airports including Liverpool, Bournemouth, Humberside, and St. Mary's, ial also provides extensive ATC services in other countries, mainly in the Middle East, and it operates a British school for training controllers.

Another private British air traffic control company-Airwork-services five British airports, including Perth and Exeter. Other companies provide air traffic control at one or two airports.

It's interesting that the airports at Bournemouth, Liverpool, and St. Mary's were formerly owned by the government. They began contracting out with private services not as the result of the Thatcher government's privatization efforts but on the initiative of local government bodies.

Meanwhile, Canada's union of air traffic controllers, the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association (CATCA), is pushing for privatization of that country's ATC system. In August, Aviation Week reported that CATCA recently formed a committee whose goal is to convert the nation's ATC system into a single corporation, a move that the union views as a step toward complete privatization. Two benefits of the single corporation, a union study determined, would be the streamlining of government control and the improvement of labor relations.

Debatable Fairness

The plot is thickening in the rift on the right over the Fairness Doctrine, which rift has some conservatives aligned with many liberals in support of the regulation. Mark Fowler, the deregulation-minded chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, wants to do away with the requirement that broadcasters cover all sides of controversial subjects and the opposing views of individuals, including political candidates and issues.

Fowler's hope, as we mentioned in December's Trends ("Freedom Program for Television"), had the conservative weekly Human Events all up in arms. The paper worried that without the Fairness Doctrine, broadcasters could become "as unfair, partisan or obscene as they desire." The conservative magazine National Review, on the other hand, printed some favorable words about repealing TV restrictions.

Now, in a later chapter of the debate, Human Events has followed a doctrine of fairness of its own. In October, the weekly published an article by Bruce Fein, FCC general counsel, in which he takes to task conservative Reed Irvine, of the news-monitoring group Accuracy in Media. A staunch Fairness Doctrine supporter, Irvine maintains that the doctrine is needed to block broadcasters from seizing political power by swaying voters, to ensure a broad airing of opinions, and to appease the public in their demand for unbiased broadcasting.

As for the fear of broadcasters seizing political power, Irvine simply is wrong in his assumption, Fein wrote, that "voters will mindlessly follow the political instructions of any broadcaster." In any case, Fein noted, broadcasters must compete with other broadcasters as well as other media- magazines, newspapers, books, and so on-in the marketplace of ideas.

A government-enforced doctrine of fairness depends on "an elusive concept that lends itself to manipulation," wrote Fein, whereas "eliminating the fairness doctrine would make [individuals'] detection of broadcast bias...easier." Moreover, he argued, "the proper remedy for bad counsel or biased viewpoints by broadcasters is good counsel and more speech, not government regulation." We couldn't agree more.

Fire Fighting Heating Up

In November, Reason reported on efforts to privatize fire-fighting services in two New England towns, Dover, New Hampshire, and Willimantic, Connecticut (see "Blazing Battles" by Jim Peron). The issue is heating up elsewhere, as well.

Lou Witzeman, founder of the pioneering Rural/Metro Fire Department in Arizona, has reported to Reason that the International Association of Fire Chiefs held a roundtable on privatization at its recent convention in Atlanta. Included in the discussion were some of the main figures in the Dover and Willimantic controversies. Chief Charles Monzillo of Willimantic was the chair, and other panel members included Chief David Bibber of Dover, George Zoley of the Wackenhut Corp., and-representing the "established fire service traditions and management style"-Chief Paul Roach of Stoughton, Massachusetts (a state that has passed a law prohibiting the contracting out of fire protection).

The representatives from Dover and Willimantic recounted their towns' experiences with the issue of privatizing fire-fighting services. Bibber, for example, told of the shift in his own thinking, "gradually coming from a neutral position to one in favor of the private sector." Zoley then briefed the audience on the history of private-sector fire fighting.

Witzeman also pointed out that Falck and Zonen, a Danish firm that provides fire-fighting service to the majority of Denmark's citizens, has now joined the Private Sector Fire Association, started last year in the United States. As he said, it gives the organization "a fine international scope."