Five Government Studies Underscore Need for ATC Reform

In recent months, government investigators have released studies that have identified problems with our domestic air traffic control system. The delays in air traffic control upgrades have been the result of unpredictable government funding and bureaucratic fights. A separate not-for-profit entity would create stability in long-term planning and hiring, and would aid in continuous technology upgrades. Safety is and will remain the top priority, within the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight.

Below are some recent report highlights, as well as links to learn more about each.

U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General: FAA Reforms Have Not Achieved Expected Cost, Efficiency, and Modernization Outcomes (January 15, 2016). “Several NextGen‐critical programs remain over budget and behind schedule due to overambitious plans, unresolved requirements, software development problems, ineffective contract management, and unreliable cost and schedule.” (read more)

U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General: FAA Continues To Face Challenges in Ensuring Enough Fully Trained Controllers at Critical Facilities (January 11, 2016). “FAA has not yet established an effective process for balancing training requirements with pending retirements when managing its controller resources at its critical facilities.” (read more)

GAO: Observations on the Effects of Budget Uncertainty on FAA (November 19, 2015). “During the week of April 21‐27, 2013, while furloughs were in effect, sequester‐related air traffic controller furloughs delayed 7,099 flights, mostly in heavily congested air‐traffic areas. Moreover, FAA implemented a hiring freeze at its air traffic controller training academy in response to sequestration and at the time of this review had fewer controllers than expected.” (read more)

U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General: FAA’s Security Controls Are Insufficient for Large Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (February 4, 2016). This report was considered so sensitive that its contents – beyond the damning headline – was not even released publicly. The summary contains the following warning: “No part of this record may be disclosed to persons without a ‘need to know.’” (read more)

U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General: FAA’s Contingency Plans and Security Protocols Were Insufficient at Chicago Air Traffic Control Facilities (September 29, 2015). “The contingency plans developed by FAA did not adequately address redundancy or resiliency and were insufficient to quickly restore operations after the Chicago fire. Moreover, the damage highlighted weaknesses in FAA’s current air traffic control infrastructure, which has limited flexibility to respond to system failures.” (read more)


Denver Post: Separate Air Traffic Control from the FAA

The Denver Post editorial board weighed in to support reforms to air traffic control. Headlined “The Remedy for Aviation Delays,” the board says:

“Sometimes the truly important stuff gets overlooked in the daily focus on election-year follies. Today’s example: a plan that backers say could transform the U.S. air traffic-control system and endow it with advanced 21st century technology.

… “It’s not that the present system is truly broken. Flying remains a remarkably safe activity, and has been getting safer through the decades based on the number of fatalities per miles traveled. But the crush of growing air travel is presenting a huge challenge to the system, such that delays have become a regular part of flying. A major reason is that radar prevents the system from being as efficient as it should be; radar doesn’t update as quickly as newer technologies, for example. And yet after a decade of effort by the FAA to modernize air-traffic control through the expenditure of billions of dollars, the system remains seriously outdated.”

Outdated equipment and an inability on the part of the government to manage a billion-dollar high-tech project is keeping us from modernizing our air navigation operations. The current FAA authorization expires at the end of the month, making it timely and important for Congress to act on these important reforms. Even more importantly, the time is now for our nation’s archaic air traffic control system to be brought into the 21st Century, while reducing delays and making air travel even safer.

The Denver Post follows similar editorials from the Washington Post and USA Today supporting air traffic control reforms. The longer it takes the U.S. to enact these transformational reforms, the further we will fall behind. The closing words of the Denver Post’s editorial should be heeded:

“Most other advanced countries already separate air-traffic control from the regulation of safety. The U.S. would do well to follow suit.”

Click here to read the full op-ed.

With Allied Pilots Association Endorsement, Nearly 27,000 Pilots Support Air Traffic Control Reform

The Allied Pilots Association (APA) recently joined the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) and NetJets to endorse the air traffic control reforms in the Aviation Innovation Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, making it nearly 27,000 pilotsto do so. These critical reforms will modernize critical equipment, enhance safety and efficiency for the traveling public, and bring the Federal Aviation Administration into the 21st Century. The Allied Pilots Association represents approximately 15,000 pilots of American Airlines and is the largest independent pilots union in the United States.

In a statement announcing support for the reforms, APA’s President Captain Keith Wilson stated:

“For decades, we have watched valuable taxpayer-supported resources used in well-intended efforts to modernize the FAA and the Air Traffic Control System, only to have those efforts thwarted or become obsolete at implementation due to the vagaries and inefficiencies of the federal funding mechanism. Separating the regulated from the regulators, while simultaneously providing a predictable and reliable funding stream, will allow the U.S. National Airspace System to retain its enviable safety and efficiency record, and equip and train its Air Traffic Controllers to handle the challenges of the coming century, retaining the United States’ role in global aviation as the gold standard.” 

Reforming air traffic control is necessary to enhance safety and make air travel more dependable and efficient for consumers. The Senate is expected to consider FAA reauthorization in the coming weeks, and it has a historic opportunity to make a positive difference for the 2 million people who fly everyday. The current FAA authorization expires March 31, making it timely and important for Congress to act on these important reforms.

You can read APA’s endorsement of the AIRR Act here.