October 19, 2017

America’s third-world air traffic control system

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In City Journal, John Tierney says there’s hope for improvement, but the crony capitalists might yet manage to keep the crappy system in its current state anyway:

Members of Congress are about to face a tough choice: should they vote to replace America’s scandalously antiquated air-traffic control system with one that would be safer and cheaper, reduce the federal deficit, conserve fuel, ease congestion in the skies, and speed travel for tens of millions of airline passengers? Or should they maintain the status quo to please the lobbyists representing owners of corporate jets?

If that choice doesn’t sound difficult, then you don’t know the power that corporate jet-setters wield in Congress. They’re the consummate Washington crony capitalists: shameless enough to demand that their private flights be subsidized by the masses who fly coach, savvy enough to stymie reforms backed by Democratic and Republican administrations.

While the rest of the industrialized world has been modernizing air-traffic control, the United States remains mired in technology from the mid-twentieth century. Controllers and pilots rely on ground-based radar and radio beacons instead of GPS satellites. They communicate by voice over crowded radio channels because the federal government still hasn’t figured out how to use text messaging. The computers in control towers are so primitive that controllers track planes by passing around slips of paper.

The result: an enormous amount of time wasted by passengers, especially those traveling in the busy airspace of the Northeast. Because the system is so imprecise, planes have to be kept far apart, which limits the number of planes in the air — leaving passengers stranded at terminals listening to the dread announcements about “air traffic delays.” When they do finally take off, they’re often delayed further because the pilot must fly a zig-zag course following radio beacons instead of saving time and fuel by taking a direct route.

Surprisingly, the Canadian air traffic control system is the model to emulate:

The Trump administration is pushing Congress this month to turn over the air-traffic control system to a not-for-profit corporation supported by user fees instead of tax dollars. It would resemble Nav Canada, which has won high praise from the aviation community for modernizing Canada’s system while reducing costs. Nav Canada’s controllers use GPS technology and text messaging, as do the controllers at the corporation that has taken over the United Kingdom’s system.

1 Comment

  1. Maybe way back when it was surprising that the Canadian system was better than the US system in a given area — but are you really surprised now?

    Comment by steve muhlberger — October 19, 2017 @ 13:00

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