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July 03, 2021

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Hey, pull out the binoculars and fire up the aviation-band radio, and create some *competition* in that privatized ATC biz!

I'm sure the airlines will gladly pay extra for the premium takeoff and landing slots that will be provided.

Government regulation? BAH!

also, all of this came up in response to this comment:

Republican way of ripping out all oversight and disempowering the workers (can anyone say flight traffic control?)

the comment was in reference to Reagan's busting of the air traffic controller union in the US.

air traffic controllers in Canada are unionized.

A problem with the US ATC is that it literally takes an act of congress to change anything. I don't know what the current status of the FAA's computer systems is. But, at one point, it was spending more money per year to maintain them than it would cost to replace them. But maintenance cost was written into the annual budget. Replacement would require legislation by congress. And the politicians are not interested in incremental improvements. They want big bang projects whose benefits they can spread around to as many special interests as possible.

Canada's and Britain's ATCs are among the world's most technically advanced. Largely because the politicians and bureaucrats are largely out of the loop.

A problem with the US ATC is that it literally takes an act of congress to change anything.
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Canada's and Britain's ATCs are among the world's most technically advanced. Largely because the politicians and bureaucrats are largely out of the loop.

Some government agencies get funded annually by Congress (like air traffic control currently). But other agencies are funded otherwise, usually by charges on the industry regulated, keeping political considerations out of it. For example, ATC could be funded via a charge on the airlines and private flights from major airports. And maybe on private pilots as well. Or by charges per flight passing thru each ATC area.

Interesting article, Charles.

I'm curious about a few things. First, it's from 2016. What has changed since then? Among other things, it says,

The FAA is rolling out data messaging with pilots on the ground, delivering clearances to cockpits by text before they push back from the gate. An FAA spokeswoman says data communications in the air will be deployed in fiscal year 2019.

It’s also testing a prototype electronic flight-strip system for control towers in Phoenix and uses electronic flight strips instead of paper in en route centers.

Wonder where all that stands.

The article also says there was a bill, in 2015 or 2016, to establish a system modeled after NavCanada, but it was rejected by the Senate.

In general, it still sounds to me as if the various problems are a result of the funding mechanisms.

The article also says there was a bill, in 2015 or 2016, to establish a system modeled after NavCanada, but it was rejected by the Senate.

Wonder what happened to all McConnell's anti-government Republicans on that? Could he really have been worried that it would somehow be seen as a "win" for Obama?

This paper describes some of the ATC technology the FAA is working on implementing.

FAA Has Begun To Update ERAM but Faces Challenges Realizing Full Benefits for Airspace Users

Seriously, IMO any discussion of the relative efficiency of air traffic control in the US as compared to CA has to account for the difference in scale between the two countries.

Canada has about 1/10 the population of the US. It also has about 1/10 the number of airports, and 1/10 the passenger traffic.

The complexity of upgrading or replacing the collection of systems that are used to manage air traffic is literally mind-boggling. It’s great that Canadian air traffic control has done a good job with theirs. In terms of scale of the problem, ours it about 10 times the size.

Not saying a private entity would or would not do a better job, just saying it’s a problem of a different scale and scope.

The difficulty of dealing with a system that moves 90 million people a year through 1900 airports (Canada) is not directly comparable to that of a system that moves almost a billion through ten times that many airports (US).

It’s great that Canada and the UK have great air traffic control. The things that work well for those countries may not work well for us.

Scale is significant. In the world of complex systems, scale introduces a quite different set of problems.

By analogy:

NYC has about 8 million people in it. Indianapolis has about 800K. Things that work well in Indianapolis might not really scale up to the problems of NYC. Problems that might be relatively easy to address in Indianapolis might be a hell of a lot harder to address in NYC.

Right? Even though they’re both cities.

Chances are the FAA would make better progress at modernizing their infrastructure if they were dealing with 1/10 the volume they deal with. Chances are NavCanada would be less of a wunderkind if they were dealing the 10 times the volume they are dealing with.

That’s my guess. I could be wrong, but my guess is probably as good as yours.

another take on the legislation proposed in 2016 can be found here.

Privatization: Socializing the risks and privatizing the profit. It's a dead loser. Just about always.

The Trump admin also took a run at privatizing the FAA: https://aerospaceamerica.aiaa.org/features/privatizing-air-traffic-control/

Russell, thanks for pointing that out. Yes, privatizing doesn't necessarily have to include busting the union unless.

I'd also point out that the amount of carbon generated by cheap air flights is screwing the pooch. So making it more efficient to have more planes in the air might not really be what we want.

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