Time to Fix our Nation’s Aviation Systems

Every day there are delays, poor routing decisions, and flight cancellations as a result of an outdated system for air traffic control. How antiquated is it? All across America flight controllers use paper strips to track thousands of flights across the skies and must hand them off each time a plane passes; from the controller responsible for incoming flights, to the controller responsible for planes on the ground, and finally to the controller managing outbound airspace. In fact, pilots and navigational officers often use their personal telephones and laptops to get up to date weather reports, as the current system is unable to send this information to the cockpit.

Thankfully, recent announcements from the White House, Department of Transportation, and lawmakers in Congress suggest that fundamental reform is finally coming. It would bring the American system up to the organizational standards that Canada, the United Kingdom, and some 60 nations have already adopted. Consequently, we’ll see top level safety standards improved, more rapid deployment of technology, and significant savings for Americans everywhere – whether they fly or benefit from air cargo.

Before our air navigation systems begin to improve, however, Rep. Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) 21st Century AIRR Act must pass through Congress. Newly revised this year, the bill would create a non-profit, non-governmental organization to provide air traffic services, essentially “corporatizing” air traffic control out of the Federal Aviation Administration. Simply put, air traffic control duties will be handled independent of the FAA, which will allow for swift implementation of newer, state-of-the-art systems that will cut costs and time. In other words, Americans will benefit from the non-profit air traffic control corporation’s ability to make decisions based on the reality of the marketplace, not on the political interests of a government agency or Congress.

And as we can see around the world, the United States is far behind. A prime example of this is Nav Canada, a private non-profit organization running Canada’s air navigation systems. Since their inception more than 20 years ago, they have seen inflation-adjusted user fees fall 45 percent lower than the aviation taxes they replaced. Their revenue comes from aviation customers, not the government. Operating through service fees, rather than waiting for congressional appropriations, can eliminate red tape and bring our airports the proper funding they need to coordinate the airways efficiently.

While opposition to the bill claim it would be a “gift” to unions, the actual 13-member board would only include two seats for union representatives, which is “hardly indicative of heavy union representation” as explained by colleague Marc Scribner. The AIRR Act would also create an advisory board of non-board stakeholders and provide insight into the big picture functions of the corporation. Altogether, this non-profit will invest in badly needed air traffic control modernization and, most importantly, provide Americans with a safe and reliable aviation network.

The time to systemically improve our nation’s aviation infrastructure is now. Not only will the new air traffic control corporation improve our aviation systems, it will have a profound effect on the national economy. Increased efficiency and reliability in our airports will save time for everyone, but more importantly, save money. Whether it is on reduced airfares or on cheaper cargo shipments across the United States, every American will benefit from expedited aviation. Indeed, less time on the tarmac and in airports translates to more money in the pockets of the consumers. The solution to this hidden drag in our economy is in plain sight, and it is about time our elected officials adopt it.