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A vote to modernize the air traffic control system

By in Press Enterprise on October 6, 2017

By Robert Poole

America’s efforts to modernize its air traffic control system are over budget, behind schedule and far less advanced than in other countries. A bill aiming to improve the nation’s air traffic control system by removing it from the Federal Aviation Administration, the national air safety regulator, is expected to get a vote in Congress this month.

The U.S. air traffic control system is more costly than it should be, and its funding via annual congressional appropriations is unstable and unpredictable. Moreover, having the same agency operate the system and regulate its safety — self-regulation — is a conflict of interest.

These issues greatly impact Southern California and the region’s economy. In August alone, nearly 8 million passengers flew through Los Angeles International Airport. That same month, John Wayne Airport served nearly a million passengers, while Burbank Hollywood and Ontario International airports each served about 400,000 passengers.

A growing consensus of experts has concluded that U.S. air traffic control is a 24/7 high-tech service business that currently performs poorly because it’s trapped in a large tax-funded bureaucracy. The House bill awaiting a vote would separate the system from the FAA, converting it into a self-supporting utility, paid for directly by the airlines that use its services.

Being removed from the federal budget process would de-politicize air traffic control, freeing it from micromanagement by federal overseers. With this change, a revenue stream from air traffic control user fees could be used to back revenue bonds to pay for large-scale facility and technology upgrades that FAA cannot afford.

Arm’s-length safety regulation would be more transparent and rigorous than the current system, where everything is done behind closed doors. And governance would be via a board of directors carefully balanced to represent all principal aviation stakeholders, including air traffic controllers, pilots, airports, large airlines, small airlines and private plane […]    

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