Less Government in Air Traffic Control, Please

Seton Motley | Less Government | LessGovernment.org
It’s Way Past Time
to Buzz the Government Tower

Perhaps the most we’ve ever collectively thought of the nation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) – was in 1981, when newly minted President Ronald Reagan had to deal with an ATC union strike.

The ATC was demanding seventeen times more than the amount of money and benefits – than was in the deal to which they had just agreed. (A deal that was itself double the average government employee raise).

Reagan’s response…wasn’t mitigated. He fired every striking ATC employee.

Flash forward to now – and it is inordinately difficult to say the government-run ATC is worth the huge coin. It is what every government-run entity is – grossly wasteful and inefficient. Any steps towards less government…would be most welcome.

Some people try to say the ATC isn’t the problem – the airlines are. Over here in Reality, we realize the fundamental truism that if the choice is between government and the private sector – the deciding is really quite easy.

To lessen the government in the ATC – behold The 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. The lead sponsor is Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Bill Shuster – a longtime privatization proponent.

About the ATC, Shuster writes: “Since 1981, the FAA has been engaged in a series of continuous programs to ‘modernize’ ATC. In 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO, now the Government Accountability Office) reported that the FAA would spend $41 billion between 1981 through 2004 on these projects.

“Whether the FAA ultimately spent $41 billion, what exactly the taxpaying public received for the investment, and whether the benefits were at least matched by the level of investment are questions that sadly do not have clear answers.

“What is known is that the FAA spent a significant amount of money, and induced others to do the same, on technology programs that ultimately failed to deliver promised benefits and were abandoned in multiple cases.”

Government wasting time and lots and lots of money? On “reforms” – that never actually reform anything? Shocker. Keep this in mind when Democrats say they want to “reform” the vast government expansion that is Obamacare.

How bass-ackwards remains the ATC?: “American ATC is stuck in the 1950s. Unbelievably enough, in the age of computers, U.S. air traffic controllers still hand each other little slips of paper to track aircraft locations.

“Pilots are forced to fly from one radar point to another (a 70-year old technology), instead of following the most direct routes from A to B. Our air space is so congested it takes 20 percent longer to fly to most places today than it did 20 years ago….

“David Grizzle, a former chief operating officer of the FAA, said: ‘The FAA suffers from an unstable procurement system and an unpredictable federal funding structure that hampers the agency from improving technology incrementally so it’s always up to date, which also undermines the FAA’s ability to train and maintain a qualified workforce. We should make the changes necessary to preserve America’s leadership in global aviation. This can only happen with systemic ATC reform.’”

Enter the 21st Century AIRR Act. Which transfers ATC operational and capital investment responsibilities from the FAA – to an independent, non-profit, federally-chartered corporation. The ATC Corporation.

The ATC Corporation will be governed by a 13-member Board of Directors nominated by aviation stakeholder groups – including industry representatives and the federal government. So while it is not totally privatized – it injects vital private sector players into the mix. Which will be a dramatic improvement over the all-government status quo.

Some conservatives say it doesn’t privatize enough. And there are Republican members of our elected Congress who are…dragging their feet, or middling and muddling on the bill.

To them I say – let us please follow the political, tactical lead of the Left (though, of course, certainly not the policy lead).

Obamacare didn’t go far enough for many of the Left – but they took what they could get. They wanted all-government – they took much more government.

We want no government (well, I do, anyway). This bill isn’t no government – but it is much less government.

Let us not allow the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The AIRR Act ain’t no government. But it’s less government. And that’s good.

This first appeared in Red State.

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