A Meeting of the Minds on ATC Reform

At the Airlines for America (A4A) Commercial Aviation Summit last week, industry experts, union leaders and airline executives gathered to discuss the future of aviation. While they offered differing perspectives on what the future holds, they all agreed on one thing: we need transformational reform of the ineffective, World War II-era air traffic control (ATC) system so that it meets the needs of the 21st century flying and shipping public.

There was a general consensus that the industry is stronger and more competitive than ever before, yet its potential to grow is being hampered by the political and bureaucratic gridlock that keeps meaningful ATC reform from becoming a reality. If we don’t separate ATC operations from Congressional politics, we will not modernize at the speed of technology or necessity and the U.S. will risk its leadership position on global aviation and the system may be forced to shrink.

Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, whose members comprise the best air traffic controllers in the world, discussed ATC reform from the controllers’ perspective. “”We run the safest and most efficient system in the world but how long can we run off outdated equipment?” In describing the urgency of reform, he said: “We can’t wait for this to become a crisis … If we do nothing, we are going to shrink aviation in this country.”

JetBlue President Robin Hayes joined Rinaldi’s call for reform, and said “the airlines are absolutely not giving up on this.” He pointed to other countries that “see aviation as a strategic part of the economy,” and have adopted ATC reform to support it, encouraging U.S. leaders to do the same. Hayes pointed to lower emissions and a smaller carbon footprint as ways modernization would have “tangible benefits on a larger scale.” He vowed to continue to mobilize customers to contact their elected officials and encourage them to adopt ATC reform.

There were many topics discussed at the Airlines for America summit, but only one resulted in such widespread agreement: The ATC system is in dire need of reform. As Karen Walker, editor-in-chief of Air Transport World, said: “We have the opportunity to break the logjam and transform our air traffic control system into a 21st century operation.”

Also see this article to find out more about what else industry leaders had to say about ATC reform at this year’s Airlines for America Commercial Aviation Summit.