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FAA Modernization On or Ahead of Schedule

Airlines lagging in installing new technology

November 9, 2017 — One of the major drumbeats from those supporting the ill-conceived ATC privatization plan included in House legislation (H.R. 2997) is that it would fix what they claim is lagging modernization of the air traffic control system.

Once again, such claims have been proven false, which  supports the position of general aviation organizations such as EAA, as well as some conservative groups and consumer associations, that privatization would not help the air traffic system.

The six main pillars of FAA’s NextGen modernization plan mandated by Congress are ahead of schedule, on track, or already implemented, according to a 2016 review. The review also supports the finding that 80 percent of all airline traffic delays are due to weather, the airlines’ own overscheduling, or a shortage of available runways —situations no FAA-managed or privatized air traffic system would cure on its own.

“Supporters of ATC privatization — which is actually not privatization in a true sense but a giveaway of taxpayer-funded public infrastructure to the airlines — claim that this plan would speed a supposed lagging modernization effort,” said Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety. “Reviewing the facts shows, however, that air traffic modernization is hitting nearly all of its important milestones on time and often ahead of schedule. That makes the ATC privatization claims even more spurious.”

One example is the installation of ADS-B and moving away from ground-based radar. Despite the FAA mandate that ADS-B “out” be installed in all aircraft flying in controlled airspace by the year 2020, a 2016 FAA study shows that less than 20 percent of airlines have done so and in some instances are seeking exemptions from the deadline. That is below the rate that general aviation users are installing the new technology. Similar experience shows that the FAA is rolling out digital communications technology at control towers 30 months ahead of schedule, but the airlines are resisting installation of the technology in their aircraft.

“It’s hard to believe the airlines’ assertion that they need to privatize the air traffic system in order to modernize it when it is the airlines that are slowing modernization progress to defer or avoid costs. This strongly supports the need for a national system that is not driven by commercial interests,” Elliott said.

The FAA review showed that three of the six primary technology platforms of NextGen have already been implemented, two others are ahead of schedule, and the final one (digital voice systems) is in testing to meet a deadline in 2025. In contrast, ATC privatization proponents have offered no specific timelines or financial data that shows any specific cost savings or timeline improvements in a privatized system.

EAA and other GA groups continue to oppose ATC privatization efforts and urge their members to keep voicing opposition to H.R. 2997. Contact your congressional representative directly via ATCNotForSale.com or through EAA’s Rally Congress website.