MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Trump Proposes Major Overhaul of Outdated U.S. Air Traffic Control System

And believe it or not, his proposal isn't half bad.

President Trump, in a speech Monday, promised to replace the current government-owned and operated air traffic control system with a private "self-financing, non-profit organization" relying on user fees, not taxes, to fund itself.

The idea is not new. Canada, the U.K., and Germany are among the roughly 50 countries that privatized air traffic control.

It has been a long-fought goal of libertarians like Bob Poole, senior transportation analyst for the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website). Poole has argued since the 1970s the "high-tech 24/7 service business" that is air traffic control "is a poor fit for a tax-funded bureaucracy housed within a safety regulatory agency."

Poole proposed what Trump is now embracing, dumping the Federal Aviation Administration-run system with a nonprofit air traffic control entity less bureaucratic, more cost-effective, and ultimately more responsive to consumer needs.

As a 2016 Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report found, the FAA has done a pretty terrible job managing and modernizing a system upon which some two million air travelers every day rely.

Despite repeated attempts by Congress to reform the FAA's management, personnel, and organizational practices, its "costs continue to rise while operational productivity has declined," the report concluded.

The FAA's budget had increased 95 percent, from $8.1 billion to $15.9 billion from 1996 to 2012 while maintaining the same number of air traffic control facilities . Personnel costs also doubled from $3.7 billion to $7.3 billion over the same time period while the number of overall FAA personnel declined by four percent.

The OIG puts the blame squarely on the agency, saying bluntly the "FAA's disappointing reform outcomes are largely the result of the Agency's failure to take full advantage of its authorities when implementing new personnel systems, and not using business-like practices to improve its operational efficiency and cost effectiveness."

This and organizational culture "resistant to change" produced spiralling costs and the sandbagging of many the tech modernization efforts the agency undertook. Of the fifteen major FAA systems upgrades examined in the report, eight were both behind schedule and over budget, costing taxpayers $3.8 billion in cost overruns, and delaying the average project by more than four years.

These results are in stark contrast to the performance of other nations' far more commercialized air traffic control systems which Poole says have seen "safety either improved or remained the same; that costs were reduced and efficiency increased, and that investments were made in new technology. "

New Zealand, the first country to take the privatization route in the late 1980's, saw its air traffic control system go from losing $5.5 million a year to turning a $2.3 million profit in just a year after privatization.

A recent Department of Transportation (DOT) study looking at the commercialized air traffic control systems of Canada, Germany, France and the U.K. found that all but France's were self-funded.

Privatized systems have also proven nimbler at modernizing their air traffic control technology.

"In lieu of developing large and multi-year modernization systems and software," commercialized European air traffic control systems instead adopted new technologies as they came on line, often modifying "commercial off-the-shelf products to meet their operational needs," according to the DOT study.

This in contrast with the FAA's slow and unwieldly procurement process to modernize its systems which, according to one analyst, "virtually ensures that any planned "new" technology will be obsolete by the time it is operational."

So while Canada and the U.K. are rapidly moving toward satellite guidance and high-altitude digital communications, the U.S. is stuck with mid-century ground radar and radio commands.

Given the FAA's performance—considered poor by even the government's standard—and the success of alternative models worldwide, one would think this kind of reform plan would be an easy sell.

Reform is not a sure thing.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R–Penn.), head of the House Transportation Committee, last year introduced a bill very similar to Trump's proposal. The bill failed to make it to the floor of the Republican-controlled House for a vote.

But with the president's endoresement, the support of former FAA administrators, the Airline Pilots Association International and, potentially, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association on board, the long fought for goal of air traffic control privatization might just get off the ground.

Photo Credit: Dan Marsh/Flickr

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.

  • Brandybuck||

    Only Nixon could go to china.
    Only Carter could deregulate the airlines.
    Only Trump could... um, something.

  • Fat Stanley||

    I like BB's game. Lemme try:
    Only Clinton could get impeached for a blowjob
    Only Bush could plunge us into generational war
    Only Obama could... ahh crap I'm out.

  • Juice||

    Win the Nobel Peace Prize for nothing? And then with said prize in hand proceed to drone bomb foreign children and US citizens.

  • Agammamon||

    Win the NPP for plunging us into a generational war?

  • SomeGuy||

    Continuing. He didn't start it.

    Also bolstering the surveillance state.

  • Lord_at_War||

    Only Clinton could get impeached for a blowjob

    He was impeached for perjury for lying in a court of law in a case, which was subsequently settled for a mid-six figure settlement, and was permanently disbarred from the practice of law.

    Tell us more about your experience with "blowjobs". I heard you went out and offered blowjobs to every guy that went by and made $12.15- When asked who paid you 15 cents- you said, "everyone"...

  • gaoxiaen||

    I can't recognize this Monica Lewinsky. I only saw the top of her head..

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Only JFK could get shot in the head while riding in a convertible
    Only LBJ could save non-white people
    Only FDR could bring the US out of the Great Depression

  • Lord_at_War||

    Only FDR could seize everyone's gold and immediately raise the price 75%, literally destroy food during the worst depression in American history, try to pack the Supreme Court, then put thousands of American citizens in internment camps- and still finish 4th in all time best Presidents lists.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I'm 100% with Trump on Steak with Ketchup. Plus Fried Onions.

  • Bra Ket||

    To give a serious answer to this, Trump would have to do something the opposition side wants and bring his normally opposed based along. Which is a real danger, as Trump is basically an old New York democrat. Such as, Reagan giving amnesty, Bush I creating our massive handicap-benefit leviathan, Bush II for adding socialized drugs to medicare. Clinton for welfare reform (though I think he may not have had many democrats along for that one). Obama a bunch of war shit etc.

    This privatization proposal, on the other hand, strikes me as the usual kind of partisan issue which the opposition with oppose. Though I'm sure they'll do so with unusually hysterical fervor.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "self-financing, non-profit organization" relying on user fees, not taxes, to fund itself.

    I refuse to pay those fees. Therefore I'll fly my plane without air traffic control, thank you very much.

  • Brandybuck||

    And you would not have to... if you could find an airport that would let you land. Try to land anyway and you're guilty of trespass. Airports are not right of ways.

  • SomeGuy||

    Real Americans own 100 arce farms with run ways......my dream! Ex and I were looking at a farm with a air stripe at one point.

  • gaoxiaen||

    acer? crea? arce? erac? arce? race? Does not compute.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Canada, the U.K. and Germany are among the roughly 50 countries that privatized air traffic control.

    You know what else Germany thought was a good idea?

  • Macaulay McToken||

    Oktoberfest?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The autobahn?

  • BYODB||

    De-carbonizing their power-grid?

  • buybuydandavis||

    The EU?

  • ||

    Saving Jews?

  • Animal||

    Beer?

  • SomeGuy||

    banning home school?

  • gaoxiaen||

    Black Forest chocolate cake? Baby, I'm droolin'.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Seattle City Council just passed the sugary drinks tax... unanimously.

  • Brandybuck||

    OMG! Whatever will Seattle do without sugary and fatty lattes and mochas? Oh wait, those are exempted...

  • Juice||

    Wait, no shit?

    Oh, Seattle....smh

  • gaoxiaen||

    Starbucks uber alles.

  • esteve7||

    yeah lets tax poor people. but not starbucks. That's different somehow

  • BYODB||

    Yeah, because somehow sugar and caffeine is way better for you than just the sugar.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    What's milk, chopped liver?

  • Robert||

    What's liver, bilious meat?

  • SomeGuy||

    raw chopped liver is pretty hard to stomach :/

  • gaoxiaen||

    What's cheese? Chalk?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    In other news:

    Move in, then register to vote: Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant wants to require landlords to give voter info to new renters

    This will pass unanimously.

  • dschwar||

    Minneapolis has had this on the books for more than a year. Even better, landlords have voter information in four languages (English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong) and the voter registration cards in six languages (the aforementioned four plus Russian and Vietnamese).

    I don't know how much good it has done, but at least Minneapolis can say it provided guidance to Seattle for once, rather than the other way around.

  • Animal||

    Get off my lawn.

  • dantheserene||

    Interesting demographics. In my part of Virginia we have voter information in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese.

  • gaoxiaen||

    No Italian? Tony has a sad.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Suck it, peasants!

  • KBeckman||

    That's odd. From what I've see it was 7 to 1. Also it doesn't include diet drinks but does include sweetened coffee.

    Still a shit thing to do.

  • ||

    OMG SOMONE NEEDS TO STOP TRUMP! HE'S GONNA MAKE PLANES GO BOOM AND CRASH AND EARF WILL CRY!

  • rebeccahickshq||

    Well I sang the words and realized. It had all been said before. So I tried a different line that meant the same. But it didn't have the feeling. And the first one said much more. So I guess I'll have to say it once again. Thank you
    super smash flash 2
    bloons tower defense 5

  • josh||

    According to the internet, doing this would kill us all while Trump and his cronies swim around in their profits like Scrooge McDuck.

    The internet is never wrong.

  • SIV||

    Snitches Get Stitches

    And Reality is going to need some in her vagina after she gets fisted in federal women's prison.

    #MAGA

  • gaoxiaen||

    Suck it, bitch!

  • Atillahn||

    Yeah, right. I'll fly on the lowest bidder system managed to this quarter profit numbers! Because people are all perfect and will always do the right thing.

  • CZmacure||

    According to the internet, doing this would kill us all while Trump and his cronies swim around in their profits like Scrooge McDuck.

    The internet is never wrong.
    My recent post: YourProfitStore Review
    Sent from http://flashreviewz.com/

  • gordo53||

    The important thing to take away from this article are the oft cited issues with government bureaucracy. Efficiency is not an issue. Compensation is not market driven. Politicians will siphon off their "tribute" in hundreds of clever ways.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online