Right Hooks

Let Air-Traffic Control Reform Take Flight

Canada provides insight into improvements.

Political Editors · Mar. 23, 2017

Included in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint is Federal Aviation Administration reform, the Wall Street Journal reports. More specifically, Trump wants to privatize air-traffic control. If successful, the way America’s skyways operate would more closely resemble that of neighboring Canada. And that’s a good thing, because it “could bring innovation and efficiency to airspace that the federal government is struggling to manage,” the WSJ editors write.

The editors continue, “The agency seems impervious to improvement. Laws in the 1990s freed the FAA from personnel and procurement rules and introduced performance-based compensation. According to the IG, the agency’s budget increased 95% between 1996 and 2012. ‘FAA’s organizational culture, which has been resistant to change, further deters its reform efforts,’ the report notes with some understatement.” Hence the growing support for divestment.

Last month, the Eno Center for Transportation formally approved a move toward privatization. “The Eno report details how Nav Canada and other nations collect user fees, not taxes, which forces management to be more cost-effective,” WSJ explains. “The U.S. air-traffic trust fund rakes in money from the domestic passenger ticket tax (7.5%); the commercial fuel tax ($0.043 per gallon); and other fees. FAA also receives money from Congress, and so funding is a political football in fights like the 2013 government shutdown, which furloughed controllers. Nav Canada operates independently with a 15-member board.”

And how’s this model working out? According to the Journal: “Fears in Canada that fees would increase without government oversight haven’t panned out. Consumer charges have dropped by one-third compared with the previous tax scheme. Canada handles 50% more traffic with 30% fewer employees, according to a 2015 Brookings Institution report. Nav Canada even sells some of its new technology and reinvests the proceeds.” Sounds good to us. While we’re on the subject of reform, let’s overhaul the underperforming TSA as well. These changes combined would not only help better streamline air-traffic control but make our skyways safer as well.

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