ATC At A “Crossroads” And Badly Needs Reforms

The nation’s air traffic control system is at a “crossroads” and only significant reforms will make sure it doesn’t devolve into a situation like DC’s Metro, writes Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, in today’s Washington Times. The “stop-and-start funding,” a hiring freeze resulting from sequestration and the inability to upgrade to modern technology combine into one very large problem, and the “consequences could be dire.” Rinaldi writes,

“The ATC system’s parallels to Metro’s decline are eerie. The Washington Metro’s biggest problem is deferred maintenance due to chronic underfunding. In addition, the system’s funding was inconsistent and unreliable. Management didn’t insist otherwise. …

 “Unlike most transit agencies, Metro gets nearly half of its budget from different jurisdictions and the federal government. This means its budget isn’t consistent from year to year. By one estimate, Metro would need $25 billion over the next 10 years to maintain its service as well as fix its operations and meet safety standards.

 “The federal government can’t afford to allow the air traffic control system to go the way of Metro. The United States has the safest and most efficient air system in the world. It can never be endangered or compromised. The ATC system’s funding can’t be interrupted or reduced again. Investments in both the controller workforce and the technology that controllers use must be stable and predictable moving forward.”

Staffing and training issues were examined in depth during an Aviation Subcommittee hearing yesterday in the House. At the end of FY2015, there were 10,947 certified air traffic controllers and another 2,964 individuals in various stages of training, but the FAA is falling short of its hiring goals.

Unless Congress acts to reform ATC, Rinaldi warns the system risks becoming the “Metro of the skies.”

Read the full op-ed here.