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Privatizing the Air Traffic Control system – why this is a good idea!

Aviation Thoughts 2 Comments

Not to sound like a Trump fan…try looking at it as a view from my side as to how Capitalism saved the planet.  For those who went to public schools, I challenge you to do some research on Capitalism, it is truly the mechanism for creating wealth, equality, and opportunity.  But I digress.  Privatizing the ATC system will benefit the airlines, general aviation, the general public, because it will expedite the integration of technology and innovation into a system that is outdated.  I will quickly reference the Flight Service Station evolution, and how the personal computer has solved the problems of weather briefings, and how much better the system actually works.Looking at the model that was used to privatize the flight service stations, you have to take a look at how the weather briefing system had been the mainstay.  Obviously, before the personal computer, the phone was the most practical method of receiving a weather briefing, along with the filing of flight plans.  A toll free number was provided, you made the call and requested a standard briefing, an outlook briefing, or an abbreviated briefing just prior to departing.  There were also personal weather briefings that would take place at a flight service station, but the majority of weather briefings were over the phone.

The flight service station briefer would pull up the latest surface observations, terminal forecasts, and area forecast very similar to what you read on-line.  The difference obviously between back then and today, is that you could pull up more current information more easily, including graphic depictions of prognosticating charts and current radar summary information. Back then, most radar summary information was very old considering the lifecycle of a thunderstorm….all I can say, is we have came a long way since then!

When the flight service station personal and offices around the country were being phased out, private contractors took over the responsibility and the information dissemination methods.  It made sense, by this time the Internet was accessible to a majority of people, and a web based portal could be developed for multiple users to access the information.  It was a system who’s time had come, and it was efficient.  The cost in today’s dollars for a weather briefing would be approximately $26.00 per phone briefing, compared to less than $1.00 for a computer based briefing via a private vendor.  Huge cost savings, better weather briefings…sounds like this works.

The one consideration that was a concern, was that an official weather observer at many locations that the FSS office would be not available, resulting in an increase of airplane crashes due to weather.  What occurred?  The ASOS or automated weather observation systems were put in place, updating weather by the minute, and being very accurate.  Now more data was available than ever before, making forecasting more accurate, and delivering real time weather not only through the computerized briefing system, but also via VHF radio frequencies.

So what would the ATC system look like privatized?  There would be no doubt that voice communications with ATC would be changed dramatically.  I don’t know how many times you fly into Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, etc., but frequency congestion at times is very high.  My belief with a high probability of this occurring, would be the text notifications of clearances, requests, routing, and all other ATC functions between aircraft and ground based personal would be automated.

In today’s world, there simply is no reason that communication for a majority of ATC functions, is done verbally over a VHF radio.  Think about this.  You are on the ground and wanting to pick up your IFR clearance.  You quickly identify yourself and request, which ATC complies with and delivers your clearance via a text message.  This text message is received and via an API (application program interface) this loads into your FMS (flight management system) and stores your routing, flight plan, and altitudes are programmed…AUTOMATICALLY!  Can you say Low Workload!

You request taxi instructions via the text messaging system, receive your instructions so you can review it AND via the API, it draws your course out on the airport layout moving map you have in your airplane.  You simply follow the yellow brick road, right?  Ready for take-off, simply let the system know and ATC releases you for departure.  Now, to get some really cool stuff ion the system, the GPS interface would know how to direct you to the most efficient method for departing a high density area, and communicate this back and forth with ATC.  FYI, departing class B airspace on an IFR clearance is complicated at times, and you are often held down low at an inefficient altitude for longer than needs to be.

This simple example of innovation can be had very quickly, but not with the current ATC government operated system.  For years ground based radar systems for directing traffic on taxi ways and ground operations has been trying to get developed and implemented, and it is a SLOW process!  Part of the problem with the ADS-B solution, has been the FAA not being able to keep up with the advancement in technologies as quickly as they are available, and you see this by how the price of ADS-B transceivers keep coming down in price.  This is just one example of many that would allow the use of technology and innovation to the business of operating an Air Traffic Control system.

My biggest concern over the ATC system, is user fees, because for some reason, everyone believes that the tax payer is the one that is paying for all the rich guys to go fly their airplanes.  In truth, general aviation and the airlines pay for every single ATC function via fuel taxes, so the average tax payer does not pay for ATC if they are not buying a ticket or buying fuel.  The thought of users fees bring up the question of – we are already paying for this, why add the users fees?  I have met with my senator from South Dakota, Senator John Thune regarding this, as he is on the transportation committee.  My question is – why has there been seventeen countries that have imposed users fees to finance the aviation infrastructure, and that once these fees are implemented, tax revenue goes way down, aviation becomes almost non-existent…so what is the point?

In my opinion, going with a privatized Air Traffic Control system not only brings technology that is available, and puts it into use, but it also lowers the cost of these services via a more efficient process of computer innovation, that we would never have to increase fees anyway?  I agree at one time we need the infrastructure built, but once that is complete, lets allow the private sector to innovate and use the technology that is available, to make everything much more efficient?   I think you will find that down the road, private ATC will show the same innovative features that privatizing the FSS did when it was made available.  It brought modernization to the forefront of how problems can be solved, and it has showed to be working very well.

So…at the end of the day, we have a much more efficient way to utilize the technology, because innovation is how capitalism works.  Many believe that a government is the only way that services are fairly and equally distributed, when this is the further from the truth.  Government is a bureaucracy the slows innovation because it doesn’t need to compete to become exceptional, it only has to exist.  Those involved with the process usually are frustrated by the slow progress, and that is why a private system that enables the innovation by creative individuals who realize…they are competing for the prize!  It’s called exceptionalism, which is what has made the best talents available to solve the problems throughout the world.  Lets embrace this by allowing privatization of Air Traffic Control.

2 Responses to “Privatizing the Air Traffic Control system – why this is a good idea!”

  1. Dale Says:

    Hi, thanks for writing about this subject. I too can see benefits in privatizing ATC, but my biggest (yuuugest?) concern is one you addressed… user fees. When you talked to Sen Thune, what was his response as far as user fees go?

    I truly believe that instituting user fees for GA will cause it to dwindle to nothing.

  2. admin Says:


    It is such a game with how congress sees things, truly if the ATC system is funded now completely through fuel taxes, why should anything change if they go with a privatized system? I can’t figure out why anyone, if you look at the data, would EVEN CONSIDER going with a user fee based system! The revenue to support the FAA ATC system is already in place, AND look at Canada, Europe, and other countries that have gone with a user fee system, and what you get is less activity, decreasing revenue, etc. Not to mention safety aspects, and proper utilization of services available. It sort of sucks!

    When I met with John Thune…as I had flown him for many years through campaigns, etc., he set up a meeting with pilots in the area to discuss users fees. I presented the documentation showing how disastrous the user fee argument is, which he accepted as fact and understood the implications of going in that direction. Then it was playing politician time, talking about how they fund the department of transportation highway bills, which impacts legislation budgets for aviation funding. I explained to him that funding for the FAA doesn’t come from the general public, but is 100% funded by taxes from fuel, which the airlines also pay. I don’t think he made the connection, but 99% of the public doesn’t understand that the aviation community, whether it is airlines, corporate aviation, recreational aviation, pays for total funding of the FAA and all the ancillary products associated with aviation.

    I don’t however like the AOPA group fighting against privatizing ATC, because anytime we have had the government get out of the business of running a business, it has flourished. We would not have the cell phone technology we have today, if the federal government stayed involved with the telephone industry, they just can’t keep up with technology…they meaning the government. I note the improvements made with the flight service stations being phased out and let the technology be applied to solve the problems. The antiquated method of ATC is ridiculous, with the technology available it is insane we are communicating clearances over a VHF frequency, and think about how many VOR’s are still being maintained, when GPS is so widespread among recreational pilots, corporate aviation, and the airlines. I understand it has to be a phase out, but I haven’t talked to many pilots in the last few years that ever tune a frequency for a VOR.

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