MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

U.S. Air Traffic Controllers Are Working Without Pay During the Shutdown. Canada's Privatized Air Traffic Control System is Bailing Them Out With Free Pizza.

Spinning off America's air traffic control system from direct government control would immunize it from the shocks caused by government shutdowns.

One feel-good story making the rounds today is about the crews of Canadian air traffic controllers who are sending pizza to their American counterparts, working without pay during the now 24-day partial shutdown of the federal government.

The pizza deliveries started last Thursday, when a team from Edmonton, Canada sent pizzas across the border to Anchorage, Alaska. It then snowballed from there, with at least 300 pizzas sent to 40 different U.S. facilities, according to the Washington Post.

It's a nice gesture, one that is no doubt welcome for U.S. controllers, who're some of the few federal workers that are required to show up to work even if though they are not being paid. (Several air traffic controllers are suing the federal government over this.)

It's also a gesture that wouldn't be necessary if the U.S. had the same air traffic control system as our northern neighbor.

Back in the mid-1990s, Canada spun off its air traffic control system from a government-controlled and operated entity to the private, non-profit corporation NavCanada.

Though the government of Canada still appoints several members of its board, NavCanada is independent of government subsidies. Instead users of Canada's airspace, including airlines, general aviation, and business jets, pay for the navigation and flight information services that NavCanada provides.

The immediate upshot of this is that NavCanada is spared having to be part of Canada's (admittedly more tranquil) budgetary politics.

The same cannot be said of America's air traffic control system. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—which operates the country's air traffic control system—must be reauthorized by Congress every five-years, as must be the taxes that fund it. Salaries for air traffic controllers are likewise subject to discretionary appropriations from Congress.

This leaves the system, and air traffic controllers themselves, at the mercy of our increasingly erratic and dysfunctional Congressional politics. When that dysfunctional politics caused a shutdown of the government on Dec. 20, air traffic controllers stopped getting paid.

This instability has been one reason why the National Air Traffic Controllers Association—the air controllers' union—has long been a proponent of Canada-style reforms that would spin the air traffic control system off into a non-profit, self-funded entity.

"We're looking for stable, predictable, reliable funding," said NATCA president Paul Rinaldi in a 2017 video. "Since 2007, we've seen 23 short-term extensions of FAA re-authorization. We've experienced the partial shutdown of the FAA. We've seen a full shutdown of the government. What we really need to seek is to insulate us from the day-to-day actions of Congress."

A spun-off air traffic control corporation like the one Canada has, and which has been proposed here (even earning the endorsement of Trump back in June 2017) would solve this problem by getting its funding from fees paid by airlines and other users of the country's airspace.

Not only would that insulate the incredibly important business of air traffic control from a government shutdown, it would also mean America's woefully outdated air traffic control system would be able to adopt newer technology more quickly.

"In America in 2017, pilots are still guided by radio beacons on the ground that date to the 1930s, and by instructions delivered via shared voice radio frequencies. Surveillance of U.S. airspace still relies almost entirely on 1950s-era radar, despite widespread use of GPS by ordinary citizens," wrote Reason's Bob Poole in November 2017, pinning the blame on the slow-moving appropriations process and the innovation-crushing FAA.

In contrast, the independent, self-funding air traffic control systems of places like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, are able to buy new technology off-the-shelf as it becomes available, putting them decades ahead of the U.S. in terms of safety technology.

Unfortunately, air traffic control reform has proven incredibly controversial, and has so far failed to make its way through Congress. Some had hoped that Trump's endorsement of reform would help finally get a bill passed, but by all accounts, the president failed to do the legislative arm-twisting to get the job done.

That's left air traffic controllers dependent on Congressional funding, and—when that ran dry—pizza from Canada.

Photo Credit: Antongepolov/Dreamstime.com

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.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Privatize is your answer to everything, isn't it?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Or pizza.

  • BigT||

    Maple pizza! Ugh!!!

  • Dillinger||

    Venison pizza (see Brickbat)

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    There is nothing Tony hates more than hypocrisy. That's why, when Tony orders a pizza, he makes sure it is delivered by USPS.

  • ColoradoKook||

    Ain't no pizza like government pizza.

  • Rossami||

    Do you have any good reason why privatization is not the answer to this particular situation? Do you have anything to rebut the evidence in the article that other countries are not only successful with privatization but that it is actually better?

  • Sevo||

    "Do you have any good reason why privatization is not the answer to this particular situation?"
    FoE was in sarcasm mode...

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Sarcasm. Yeah, that's real helpful.

  • esteve7||

    Yes

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    AND THEY BETTER NOT BE DELIVERING THOSE PIZZAS BY DRONE.

  • Rat on a train||

    They drive the 1,900+ miles.

  • ||

    That picture of Canadian Air Traffic Controllers is so funny it hurts. It looks like they're getting ready to rehab that home for HGTV.

  • ||

    Which picture? All I see is the one from Portland, Maine.

  • DenverJ||

    Portland, Maine isn't part of Canada? Huh, I thought we're lost it to you guys during the 93 Stanley cup

  • Fancylad||

    You did, but then Congress dressed up Detroit with lobsters and fried clams and tried to trick us into taking it instead, so Parliament said "Fuck it" and went home.

  • ||

    Which picture? All I see is the one from Portland, Maine.

    The 'Vancouver' shirt had me confused. I'd say I'm bad with fashion but I refuse to believe that what she's wearing represents good fashion sense.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    In America in 2017, pilots are still guided by radio beacons on the ground that date to the 1930s

    Is that right? I thought LORAN had been shut down.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    It's a typo. It's supposed to say "deacons."

  • Raoul Duke||

    It was deemed problematic, what with the master stations, slaves, chains, etc.

  • Rich||

    a team from Edmonton, Canada sent pizzas across the border to Anchorage, Alaska. It then snowballed from there, with at least 300 pizzas sent to 40 different U.S. facilities

    Any indication the Mexicans are doing something similar?

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    They are sending the pizza delivery personnel.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    North American Free Taco Agreement.

  • ||

    Mexicans are sending illegal pizza.

  • Rat on a train||

    Deep dish?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I ate a pizza once that had Jalapeno and Chorizo on it. It was excellent.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    He said "pizza," not "casserole."

  • ||

    I had a thought that somebody needs to make a Chicago-style cheesecake that's just a thin layer of graham crust, a thin spread of fruit flavoring, and a layer of cream cheese that you fold in half and eat with your hands. Chicagoans can eat it because they genuinely love it and hipsters in NY can eat it for the irony.

  • ColoradoKook||

    Mexicans are MAKING the pizza.

  • Dillinger||

    and much of the Chinese food here in Dallas

  • Don't look at me!||

    What we really need to seek is to insulate us everyone from the day-to-day actions of Congress."

    FTFY

  • Rat on a train||

    Hopefully they sent American pizza, not Canadian.

  • ||

    "Smokey Maple Bacon
    Creamy alfredo sauce, maple bacon strips, bacon strips, bacon crumble, sliced mushroom, smoked aged cheddar and pizza mozzarella."

    That sounds disgusting.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Sounds pretty good to me. I like white pizza though, as I am deeply racist.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Oh, it's Pizza Hut. I rescind my comment.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Rat on a train||

    It is one of the survivors.
    Cheesy Beef Poutine
    Pizza Hut's unique spin on a true Canadian classic. Shaved seasoned steak, crispy fries, cheese curds and mozzarella all atop Pizza Hut's famous pan crust.
    Creamy Butter Chicken
    Foodies will savour the delectable taste of butter chicken sauce, grilled chicken strips, roasted red peppers, red onion and pizza mozzarella - available on your favourite Pizza Hut crust.
    Asian BBQ
    Escape with a sweet and bold flavours of Asian BBQ sauce, shaved steak, red onions, pizza mozzarella, garnished with green onions and sesame seeds for freshness and a toasty crunch.
    Grilled Chicken Club
    Pizza Hut pays tribute to Canada's perennially popular sandwich in a pie that combines creamy Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken strips, bacon, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pizza mozzarella and pepper mayo drizzle.
    Smokey Maple Bacon
    Only in Canada, eh? Created for Canadian bacon aficionados with Alfredo sauce, maple bacon strips, bacon crumble, sliced mushrooms, and shredded cheddar and pizza mozzarella.

  • Mickey Rat||

    No back bacon? For shame, Pizza Slut.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I thought Canadian pizza was topped with strips of flannel, icicles, and apologies.

  • Fancylad||

    That's Ottawa pizza, and you forgot a healthy dose of smug.

    Also try:
    Western Canadian Pizza
    Political alienation and manure, smothered in heavy crude. Continuously generates excellent toppings, but most of them are picked off and put on Quebec Pizza.

    Pacific Canadian Pizza
    由中国政府拥有

    Central Canadian Pizza
    Bland and inoffensive but it's really the only pizza that counts and may be the center of the world and something, something Toronto is waaaay better than Vancouver and Montréal.

    Quebec Pizza
    An ethnically pure pizza whose generous toppings have been plucked from all the other pizzas.

    Maritime Canadian
    Rotten fish and rotgut liquor form the basis of this pie. For four months every year it has excellent toppings of its own, but for the remaining eight months it's essentially the same recipe as Quebec pizza.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    +1

  • ||

    There better not have been pineapple on that pizza.

  • Reason4thinking||

    Just mention the word private and all is well with the world. But private non-share corporation -- and a non-profit -- that is essentially an NGO with a monopoly on Canadian ATC functions all supported by usage fees and not market pricing. And they are, like many of the US ATC a part of a large union. The governmental solution here is in the US is to collect fees on tickets, gate fees and the like and to provide for an Airway Trust Fund. The ATF provides for about 90% of operating costs. The problem is that the even though such a Trust Fund exists Congress must authorize appropriations. So the simple solution is for Congress to allow the FAA (or executive branch) to pay its bills from the trust fund. It is a simple thing and the outcome would not be much different than NavCanada.

  • Sevo||

    "But private non-share corporation -- and a non-profit -- that is essentially an NGO with a monopoly on Canadian ATC functions all supported by usage fees and not market pricing."
    Hard to argue; why not several and let them compete?

    "And they are, like many of the US ATC a part of a large union."
    Which should be dis-intermediated.

    "The governmental solution here is in the US is to collect fees on tickets, gate fees and the like and to provide for an Airway Trust Fund. The ATF provides for about 90% of operating costs. The problem is that the even though such a Trust Fund exists Congress must authorize appropriations. So the simple solution is for Congress to allow the FAA (or executive branch) to pay its bills from the trust fund. It is a simple thing and the outcome would not be much different than NavCanada."
    AFAIK, Canada supports the system 100% from user fees. The US needs to raise them to do the same.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Does every airport in Canada have to use NavCanada? If so, it's missing one of the most important components of privatization.

  • Agammamon||

    U.S. Air Traffic Controllers Are Working Without Pay During the Shutdown. Canada's Privatized Air Traffic Control System is Bailing Them Out With Free Pizza.

    You just have to wonder about the USG's definition of 'non-essential'.

  • FreeRadical||

    The controllers are considered "essential". That's why they're working without pay.

    If you're "non-essential" you just aren't working.

  • Agammamon||

    Essential people are getting paid - ask the military, the DHS, the DEA, etc.

  • BigT||

    That pizza was cardboard and catsup!!

    ...blame Canada.

  • Barnstormer||

    Any article about ATC that quotes Bob Poole is a non-starter. He has never understood that the US system is much larger, complex, and more efficient than any other in the world. He has never understood that no aviation metroplex such as NYC or Southern California even exists elsewhere. Yet, he still insists we should privatize and be more like the Europeans, but--other than libertarian dogma--he has no idea why.

    Mr. Britschgi merely passes on the bromide everyone at Reason imbibes.

  • Sevo||

    "He has never understood that no aviation metroplex such as NYC or Southern California even exists elsewhere."

    So what?

  • Barnstormer||

    Because then he might understand why EWR runs delays that EHAM doesn't, largely because of it's proximity to other busy airports.

  • Barnstormer||

    Apologies for the misplaced apostrophe.

  • Sevo||

    "Because then he might understand why EWR runs delays that EHAM doesn't, largely because of it's proximity to other busy airports."

    OK, but I don't see how that impacts any call for privatization.

  • Raoul Duke||

    One major point that's overlooked is that the US enjoys a robust general aviation industry, something rarely found anywhere else in the world. Part of it is due to low fuel prices (only $5 a gallon!), partly due to the lack of user fees (specifically landing fees), and partly due to the relative ease of training and getting a license. Students come from all over the world to train in the US before returning home where it would be prohibitively expensive to do the same thing.

    On the other hand, there are something like 100 private towers in the US, and the experience of using them is no different than any other tower.

  • Sevo||

    "partly due to the lack of user fees (specifically landing fees),"
    Sounds like a reason to up the fees; there is no reason the taxpayer should subsidize GA flyers.

  • Raoul Duke||

    True enough, but a huge swath of the GA sector really doesn't even utilize FAA services. Lots of people purposely use non-towered airports and never bother talking to ATC. Their only real usage of the system would be the pavement of runways and taxiways.

    When it comes to larger and busier airports, landing fees make sense if for nothing other than a deterrent to small aircraft getting in the way.

  • Agammamon||

    partly due to the lack of user fees (specifically landing fees)

    All this means is that non-users are footing the bill. Which means that the robust US general aviation industry 'enjoys' more 'robustness' than would exist if it was paying its own way. Its being subsidized, in other words, to the detriment of something else.

  • Raoul Duke||

    General aviation pays a federal fuel tax 5x greater than commercial operations, 6x higher for GA jet fuel.

  • Agammamon||

    Then that's why its all screwed up.

    There is no relation between how much fuel used and ATC services consumed. So the majority of that money is siphoned off elsewhere - just like normal gas taxes.

  • Barnstormer||

    Airways are just like roadways and waterways. They are provided and maintained by the government for all to use.

  • Sevo||

    Barnstormer|1.14.19 @ 11:19PM|#
    "Airways are just like roadways and waterways. They are provided and maintained by the government for all to use."

    Nice try at sophistry.
    Now try explaining how the taxpayers should subsidize GA flyers. I really do NOT like ducking and weaving.

  • Barnstormer||

    Like I said, the lines of communication are there for all to use. It's a smart use of our tax money, that substantially raises the quality of life for everyone. If you consider that a subsidy, then every car, truck, boat, ship, and aircraft owner in the country is receiving it.

    Things you do NOT like aren't my problem.

  • Rick B.||

    "It's a smart use of our tax money, that substantially raises the quality of life for everyone"

    You keep saying that without demonstrating it.

    "Things you do NOT like aren't my problem."

    They are when you are making me pay for them.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I see what you're saying, but the part I'm not understanding is the implication that only a government can provide a large, complex, efficient ATC system. Is that your argument, and if so why?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Jfc build the northern wall already.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    By "free", you mean paid for by the citizens of the Great State of Canada.

  • Sevo||

    "By "free", you mean paid for by the citizens of the Great State of Canada."

    Turns out the users pay.
    All countries charge 'overflight fees' (per mile) in effect for the use of the ATCs. Canada's are some of the highest, and if weather allows, US carriers will avoid Canadian airspace if possible.

  • Fancylad||

    Russia pulls a similar trick.
    When you're that big it can be pretty profitable.

  • ||

    Wait. We're still talking about pizza here, right?

  • CDRSchafer||

    They're going to get paid, just not until the shutdown ends.

  • ATC0||

    ATC has been privatized throughout the world. The US ATC system is just the last domino to fall. It started heading in that direction in 1996 with Al Gore's "reinventing government." The controller's union (NATCA) came out in favor of such a move a few years back when they verbally supported the Shuester bil for a short time. NATCA like other federal unions are for the most part lobbyists. They enjoy mingling, attending parties, guzzling champagne, and eating bacon-wrapped shrimp and getting photo ops with powerful politicians. When the threat of a shutdown comes along they read a prepared statement: blah, blah, something, something, stable funding. And that's about as close as it gets to getting a bloated government run entity out the hands of power-drunken politicians.

  • cheapmcmbelt||

    Thanks admin for giving such valuable information through your article . Your article is much more similar to https://www.moschinooutletonlinestore.com/ word unscramble tool because it also provides a lot of knowledge of vocabulary new words with its meanings.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

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