Is it time to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system?

Earlier this month, I and a few of my kids went to Disney World in Orlando. It was the first time flying for a couple of them, and thankfully it went off without a hitch. A lot better than when I went to DC earlier this year and found myself backed up for hours.

I didn’t make any appointments for that day I landed in DC, because I knew that air travel times are not predictable and true to form, it wasn’t.

Yes, weather can come into play, but sometimes, a small problem can cascade. And we’ve all been there – sitting on an airplane or at the gate when a flight attendant makes the dreaded announcement that your flight has been delayed (to mass groans from all those in their seats). Even better when they take you off the plane. And it might be a sunny day, so you’re not getting booted because of weather, but because of congestion in Chicago, Minneapolis, or Denver, or wherever because of a lineup of planes all waiting idly to take off.

(Seriously, I actively avoid flying through Chicago because I expect my flight times are going to be mucked up because of it.)

From what I understand, there are a number of times that the reason for these delays is our current and outdated air traffic control (ATC) system.

Do you still use a VHS player at home? Most would say no. But the current ATC system is not even at that level. It technically still “works,” but it’s very clear that faster and better options are available. Airplanes today are still flying on a 70-year-old radar system, instead of using satellite guided GPS. It is a system stuck in the VHS-era, unable to enjoy the speed, ease, and significantly lower cost of online streaming.

The problem with this old system, like any utterly outdated technology, is that it makes our flights longer and our delays more severe, creating a major headache for everyone that flies. Meanwhile, cancellations and delays waste billions of dollars annually.

Isn’t this the same United States that put a man on the moon in the 60’s? Aviation has progressed in the time since. Our lack of innovation in the aviation industry does not bode well for the U.S. The government has known our system is outdated and in need of help for over 25 years, yet every proposed solution has absolutely failed when it comes time for implementation.

The solution is simple, and one that most people should support. It’s been talked about for years. Why not privatize? Why not get the government out of the air traffic control business and in its place, establish an independent entity to oversee it. President Trump has also come out in support of this decoupling, making it a pillar of his infrastructure plan.

If this were to pass, it would be one of the most significant reductions in the size of the federal government in a generation. It would improve safety, efficiency and make flying a little less of a hassle for everyone.

Seems like a win-win, right?

The problem is that private parties such as corporate and private jet lobbyists oppose this plan because of a preexisting sweetheart deal with the government. Despite accounting for nearly 10% of all takeoffs and landings, private jets pay about 0.4% into the system.

So, fixing aviation? This is an area where our people in Washington can play an important role. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, who has oversight of this, our own Senator Thune is a critical player in this debate.

There’s already a group promoting the change at the federal level. If you agree that Air Traffic Control will operate more efficiently when run independently, I encourage you to visit to learn more, and express your support to our elected officials.

For conservatives, it’s a pretty simple choice – either you stand for reducing the size of the government and the burden on taxpayers, or force all of us to suffer the consequence of an outdated air traffic control system which continues to deteriorate.

4 Replies to “Is it time to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system?”

  1. Jim D.

    I am actually an Air Traffic Controller. Been one since 2001. This article is clearly written by someone who is neither a Pilot or a Controller.

    We are not stuck in some VHS era. Most delays are actually airline or weather inflicted. And yes RADAR has been around for sometime,but it is a far cry from the analog systems used in WW2.

    There are a lot of reasons to not shutdown radar sites, chief among them National Security. Satellites can be shot down, just ask China. Also solar flares routinely wreak havoc on Satellite based communications, so its good to have a ground based network.

    But the real culprit in ATC not using Satellite based technology is the airlines themselves. Google ADSB Coverage map and you will see that the infrastructure is already in place. The entire US is covered. I use it when I fly my Cessna 172 and get free weather radar and traffic alerts. The airlines simply havent updated even though the FAA madate of 2020 is fast approaching. Please educate yourself on the facts by talking to some controllers and pilots before writing such a report.


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