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July 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 19

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Reform the U.S. ATC System


by Dr. Don Racheter


Following the lead of New Zealand in 1987, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, and many other nations have made their Air Traffic Control (ATC) systems into some type of private corporation.[1] Since it was privatized in 1996, Canada’s ATC system (Nav Canada – the second largest in the world) has won awards as the world’s best ATC provider.[2]


We should emulate our neighbors to the north and do the same for the United States ATC system as soon as possible to improve safety, cut costs, and head-off a potential shortage of controllers that would impede the continued expansion of air travel for Americans.


Groups which support this move include Reason Foundation,[3] National Taxpayers Union,[4] Heritage Foundation,[5] Americans for Tax Reform,[6] and CATO Foundation.[7] Recently, Scott McCartney reported in the Wall Street Journal on the many benefits of such a move:


In Canada, pilots and controllers send text messages back and forth, reducing errors from misunderstood radio transmissions. Requests for altitude changes are automatically checked for conflicts before they even pop up on controllers’ screens. Flights are monitored by a system more accurate than radar, allowing them to be safely spaced closer together to add capacity and reduce delays.[8]


This year, Representative Bill Schumer (R-PA), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, introduced legislation to create an American nonprofit ATC corporation modeled on Nav Canada. With the support of most U. S. airlines, and significantly the air-traffic controllers’ union, the bill cleared the House, but was rejected in the Senate.[9]


Given that Nav Canada has reduced the fees paid for ATC three times and that new technology that the U.S. is hoping to introduce in 2019 has been in use in Canada for many years, one wonders what the Senate could see as a reason for opposition. Bureaucratic inertia perhaps?



[1] Scott McCartney, “The Air-Traffic System U.S. Airlines Wish they Had,” Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2016, p. D1.
[2] Chris Edwards “Air Traffic Control: Ripe for Reform,” The Daily Caller, March 2, 2016, <> accessed on May 26, 2016.
[3] <> accessed on May 26, 2016.
[4] <> accessed on May 26, 2016.
[5] <> accessed on May 26, 2016.
[6] <> accessed on May 26, 2016.

[7] < dtd&proxystylesheet=default_frontend&sort=date%3AD%3AL%3Ad1&entsp=a__cato_policy_drew0115&wc=200&wc _mc=1&oe=UTF8&ie=UTF8&ud=1&exclude_apps=1&site=web_collection> accessed on May 26, 2016.

[8] McCartney.
[9] Ibid.


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