Transportation Policy

How to Pull Air Traffic Control Out of the 1960s!

JetBlue and other airlines are signing on to a plan pushed by Reason Foundation's Robert W. Poole for decades.


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Watch Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue (which bills itself, for better or worse, as "New York's Hometown Airline"), talk up the need for air-traffic control (ATC) reform. He ain't kidding. As Reason Foundation's Robert W. Poole has been arguing for decades, our ATC system is mired in 1960s' technology:

The U.S. air traffic system is the world's largest, but technologically it severely lags behind other countries that have already implemented digital messaging, GPS flight tracking and newer alternatives to the 1960s-era systems still found in U.S. air traffic facilities.

The world's second-largest air traffic system, Nav Canada, was "corporatized" 20 years ago. More than 60 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, have self-supporting air traffic control corporations.

The result, Poole argues convincingly, is a U.S. system that causes unnecessary delays without improving safety. In an age of ubiquitous cellphones and GPS systems, all of us is essentially better-equiped than the people directing our flights around the country.

We all want a system that is efficient, safe, and cost-effective, but that can never really happen under current conditions. The way federal budgeting is done, the Federal Aviation Administration never gets the cash and the approval to toss out the equivalent of love beads, mini skirts, and Nehru jackets and join a technological revolution that would make flying faster, more secure, and safer. Poole, JetBlue's Hayes, other airline officials, the air-traffic controllers themselves, and members of Congress got behind a corporatization bill that passed a House panel earlier this year; the full House will vote on the reform bill in September, after the current recess. Unfortunately, the Senate is blocking the legislation, instead pushing for a status quo that every years get a bit moldier.

Here are Poole's answers to 21 Air Traffic Control FAQs.

And here's JetBlue's Hayes laying out the case for ATC reform:

More info at OnTimeFlights, a website created by the airlines' trade group.

The cover story of the November issue of Reason, written by Bob Poole, is all about fixing the ATC system. It's a great reason to subscribe to the print and/or digital editions of the world's only magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets." Subscribers get their copies long before the material goes live at For instance, the full October issue is already available to subscribers but behind a paywall for everyone else.

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