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Privatising US Air Traffic Control.

New York Times

SOME Republicans in the House have come up with a solution in search of a problem: privatising air traffic control. Democrats, the Obama administration and sensible Republicans ought to oppose this measure, which would do nothing to improve the present, federally operated system and indeed could make it worse.

The proposal by Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey was voted out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee along partisan lines on Thursday. Their bill would move the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control division to a new private, nonprofit corporation financed by fees from airlines and private aircraft owners. They argue that this private organisation could move more quickly and cheaply than the FAA to reduce congestion and delays.

But there is no credible evidence that a privately operated system would be better than the current one, which is the busiest and safest in the world. And there is plenty of reason to believe it would be worse.

Only two other major countries have privatised air traffic control, Canada and Britain, but their air systems are much smaller. Other countries like Germany and France run air traffic through government-owned companies. Delta, which is the only large airline to oppose the Republican plan, notes that air traffic control costs have increased more in Canada and Britain than in the United States since they privatised. Britain had to bail out its private air traffic control operator after the 2001 terrorist attacks when air travel declined around the world. Even if a private system did reduce costs, there is no guarantee that airlines would pass those savings to passengers.

The bill could also disrupt the FAA's work to increase the nation's flight capacity and reduce delays. That project is called NextGen, and it has shown promising results. But the agency has taken longer and spent more than it expected.

Shuster and his colleagues have pointed to this as a rationale for privatisation, but they conveniently ignore the problems private companies often have with such large technical projects.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Feb 17, 2016
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