Recently at Reason.tv: Your Flight Has Been Delayed…and It's Washington's Fault


As the holiday travel rush approaches, air travelers grounded by delays should take a moment to think about why they're stuck in airports or on the tarmac. There's a good chance Washington is to blame.

"The air traffic control system in the United States is technologically obsolete," says Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason.tv. "This model is basically the same model that we have used since the beginning of air travel."

The technology the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses to navigate $200 million jets is less advanced than the GPS technology drivers use to navigate $20,000 cars.

Poole says the system could safely handle more planes if the FAA used modern technology that would provide real-time information about where planes are. But the funding process, overseen by pork-hungry members of Congress, often thwarts technology upgrades. 

The only way to get the politics out of our air traffic system is to take the system away from the politicians. Why not let a private corporation manage the skies?

That may sound like a far-out, free-market idea, but Canada doesn't think so.

Our neighbors to the north often take pride in their lavish government programs, yet they allow a private corporation called Nav Canada to manage their air-traffic control system. Canada's approach, often called commercialization, has some surprising supporters in the U.S., including Al Gore, who pushed for commercialization when he was Bill Clinton's vice president.

"Your Flight Has Been Delayed" is written and produced by Ted Balaker. Director of Photography: Alex Manning; Field Producers: Paul Detrick and Hawk Jensen. The host is Nick Gillespie.

Approximately 7.28 minutes. Go here for embed code and downloadable versions. 

To subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel, go here.

Originally released on November 18, 2009.

NEXT: Let's Make a Deal, Health Care Reform Edition

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I wouldn't exactly call Nav Canada "private". From Wikipedia:

    Corporate governance
    As a non-share capital corporation, Nav Canada has no shareholders. The company is governed by a 15 member board of directors representing the four stakeholder groups that founded Nav Canada. The four stakeholders appoint 10 members as follows:

    Air carriers 4
    General and business aviation 1
    Federal government 3
    Bargaining agents (unions) 2

    These 10 directors then elect four independent directors, with no ties to the stakeholder groups. Those 14 directors then appoint the president and chief executive officer who becomes the 15th board member.

    This structure ensures that the interests of individual stakeholders do not predominate and no member group could exert undue influence over the remainder of the board.[3] To further ensure that the interests of Nav Canada are served, these board members cannot be active employees or members of airlines, unions, or government.

    It also appears to be losing money, despite the fees it levies on travellers.

  2. More technology means fewer jobs in the private sector. The FAA belongs to the government. I really don't understand what the FAA is worried about. No one is going to be laid off.

  3. 'But the funding process, overseen by pork-hungry members of Congress, often thwarts technology upgrades.'

    This is the absurd part since taxes are a ginormous part of the price of each ticket. But as usual the money goes elsewhere.

    So next time you're stuck on a plane in heavy airtraffic, remember that there is a superbadass supercollider smashing up atoms like trucks at a monster rally that was funded instead. And that makes everything okay.

  4. Is this the kind of technology upgrade we can expect?


    1. God, and I was using my toes and fingers before I discovered this. Thanks for inspiring me with this piece to even think about looking to see if it existed on line.

      It was the part of the video where you showed Canada's upgraded computer system which featured the same moving blocks.

  5. """As the holiday travel rush approaches, air travelers grounded by delays should take a moment to think about why they're stuck in airports or on the tarmac. There's a good chance Washington is to blame."""

    More often than not, it's the weather. Even if you use GPS, there are some conditions you don't want to risk take-offs and landings.

  6. Wonder what the number of delays are at Johnstown/Cambria County airport?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.