During the December/January partial government shutdown, the presidents of three air travel-related unions, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, issued a joint statement declaring that America’s “air safety environment…is deteriorating by the day.”
Without action on border security, American public safety and sovereignty are deteriorating, too, but the union statement overlooked those.
The unions may have legitimate concerns, but a conspicuous “tell” in their public statement telegraphed their immediate interests: “Due to the shutdown, air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, air marshals, federal law enforcement officers, FBI agents, and many other critical workers have been working without pay for over a month.”
One wonders… If “critical” federal employees “have been working” and performing their regular duties through the shutdown, how could the “air safety environment” have deteriorated? Other than a delayed paycheck or two, nothing should have changed. In reality, truancy among Federal Aviation Agency union controllers (average annual pay $125,000, plus benefits) artificially induced system “deterioration.”
Union solidarity and mendacity aside, changes are needed, starting with the FAA’s antiquated Air Traffic Control system. The FAA began “modernizing” ATC in 2004, but its “NextGen” modernization project won’t be completed until 2026 – or later.
Audits have exposed NextGen’s delays and massive cost overruns. FAA Inspector General reports have revealed how badly the agency bungled the project, saying it “lacked effective management controls,” among other failures. The FAA is the more-likely source of any genuine deterioration in air traffic safety.
Congress could spare the nation’s Air Traffic Control system the vicissitudes of the federal budgetary process by emulating something European nations much admired by Democrats have already done. Germany, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom incorporated their ATC systems long ago. So did Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
America’s northern neighbor made its air traffic control system a private not-for-profit corporation twenty-plus-years ago. Unlike America’s Air Traffic Control system, user-fee-funded NavCanada is unaffected by government budget squabbles. NavCanada has successfully and efficiently modernized and improved Canada’s ATC operations. In fact, in contrast to the FAA’s NextGen equipment failures and delays, the head of America’s National Air Traffic Controllers Association has publicly expressed his admiration for NavCanada’s successful implementation of state-of-the-art equipment/methods in a very short time.
Privatizing American ATC would save taxpayers money, allow better management and improve operational efficiency and air travel safety. A Transportation Safety Administration Screening Partnership Program already allows American airports to privatize security operations.
Although union management would like to approve the details before passage (unions are the nation’s most powerful lobby, after all), the National Air Traffic Controllers Association generally supports ATC privatization as a way “to provide more stable funding than annual congressional appropriations.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should take note.
President Donald Trump has proposed ATC privatization, but Ms. Pelosi rejected his proposal, saying it would “hand control…to special interests and the big airlines.”
But no objective, thinking person believes that ending the partial government shutdown solved America’s ATC system problems.