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Canada’s ATC System an Imperfect Example

Privatization there can create aviation class system

October 23, 2017 - As the debate over ATC privatization continues here in the U.S., privatization supporters use the example of the Canadian system as a possible model for American operations. While the people working within the NavCanada system are extremely efficient and well-liked, the privatized system there is not universally preferred.

One example is explained by Rob Erdos, EAA 157826, an accomplished Canadian test pilot and RV-6 owner. Erdos began his flying career in the late 1970s, so he has operated under both systems. His observation is that since privatization, ATC in Canada has become driven more by procedure and process rather than the needs of the user.

“For example, before providing service ATC will make it a priority to identify tail number and type for billing purposes, regardless of the issue at hand,” Erdos said. “The collegial relationship between controllers and pilots has deteriorated since privatization, replaced with more of a provider/client relationship.”

In addition, there is no evidence such a system could be scalable for effective use in the U.S., as Canada’s annual air traffic roughly equals Dallas and Houston air traffic services combined. It is also worth noting that Canada’s controlled airspace is less than 1/4 the size of the United States’ despite Canada being larger by surface area. Canada also has around 35,000 GA aircraft as opposed to more than 209,000 in the U.S., and the U.S. handles vastly more IFR operations every day. A privatized system may generally work in Canada, but the fundamentals of the system are far different from the United States.

It’s worth noting that the Canadian system is set up differently than the American proposal outlined in H.R. 2997, as it is not dominated by airline interests. Even so, and with  Canada’s lower volume of operations, the airspace can still get too crowded for lowly GA pilots.

A NOTAM for the Victoria, British Columbia, airport shared with us by a member said the following (in plain English): “Due to reduced system capacity and anticipated traffic demands, VFR aircraft may anticipate restrictions and/or delays up to 15 minutes for flight in towered Class C or Class D airspace.” This was placed in effect for the busy summer travel season but still remains in place even though traffic has subsided.

One of EAA’s major arguments against privatization is that it opens the door to limited access for GA pilots, not only at major metro hubs, but at all airports within a particular airspace. That makes GA pilots second-class citizens and their freedom of flight less important than that of for-profit airline operations. The national airspace system, like our federal highways, should be open to all equally and not subject to an airline-dominated caste system.

Erdos’ experience as a GA pilot in Canada and clear, documented restrictions on VFR traffic are just some of the many ways that privatization will degrade the best, safest, and biggest ATC system on the planet. That is why EAA continues to oppose ATC privation and urges you to contact your congressional representatives through www.ATCNotForSale.com to speak against the privatization provisions of H.R. 2997. Your voices are being heard!