Aviation Leaders: Without ATC Reform, We Continue Falling Behind in the Skies

Air Transport World has a great write-up of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Aviation Summit during which a number of aviation leaders made clear the stakes of not reforming air traffic control operations. We’ve separately noted on this blog how American Airlines CEO Doug Parker laid out five indisputable facts about the need for reform and why it’s supported by a broad section of aviation stakeholders like most of the major airlines and the union that represents air traffic controllers.

The Air Transport World piece notes Parker’s strong pushback against some of the opposition’s claim that the reforms would “privatize the system.” From the article:

“For the record, we oppose privatization and would oppose the creation of a private, for-profit entity if that were on the table, but it isn’t.  The new entity would be strictly regulated by the FAA to ensure the highest degree of safety. The plan on the table is not one to change technology or direction, but rather a plan to assure steady, long-term financing and to lift constraints on moving forward with NextGen more quickly and decisively.”

In addition to the FAA retaining safety oversight, the new not-for-profit will be run by a Board of Directors that represents all aviation stakeholders.

JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes, who also spoke at the summit, is quoted in the article addressing the global ramifications of not modernizing ATC:

“We are an outlier on the global stage when it comes to how we run air traffic control. We’re the only [major] country that has the same agency regulating safety and operating the air traffic control system. We need modernization to reduce delays and carbon emissions. Congress has an opportunity to act now.”

Also weighing in on the issue at the summit was retired Boeing Chairman James McNerney, who said the reforms are “critical to the growth of our [aviation] industry and to our economy” despite the fact they don’t “resonate politically as much as it should.” While the average American doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about air traffic control, air travelers do spend a lot of wasted time in airports riding out flight delays. Delays that could be mitigated through reforms to implement modern technology to better route flights.

“Solving this issue [of ATC system reform] is absolutely critical to the growth of our [aviation] industry and to our economy.”

The U.S. is one of the last few remaining developed nations that does not separate ATC function from safety regulations. The longer we continue to rely on antiquated ground-based radar and strips of paper to route the most technically advanced passenger planes ever built, the most we will fall behind other nations.