Sunday, February 21, 2016

WRONG ON THIS ONE

                                                        WRONG ON THIS ONE

On  February 15, the New York Times editorialized against a proposal to remove management of America's air traffic control system from the FAA, and hand responsibility to a non-profit corporation governed by the system's customers and participants. More than 50 countries around the world have already taken equivalent steps, with outstanding results. The US has fallen behind in aviation, and without this change, is unlikely to catch up.

Although I am a great fan of  the Times -- and a Democrat -- I think both the paper and my party are wrong on this issue.   On February 16, I sent the Times the following response,  which it has declined to publish. 





As a long time student of the airline industry and fan of the New York Times, I am deeply disappointed by the Paper’s opposition to the proposal that the FAA’s Air Traffic Control function be moved into a non-profit corporatized ANSP (Air Navigation Service Provider).  The present system is clearly broken and I believe that the Paper is wrong on the facts.

  •    First and foremost, corporatizing is not privatizing. The proposed non-profit organization will be governed by a Board which includes representatives of the airlines, general aviation, consumers, unions and the federal government.  The organization will set and collect service fees sufficient to cover its costs and will be able to sell bonds against those fees, thus providing reliable capital funding.  It will be free to manage its business as it sees fit so long as it conforms to safety requirements established by the FAA.
  • The purpose of the proposal is to separate the  safety oversight and navigation service provider functions, as more than 50 countries have already done. Safety oversight should and will remain the responsibility of government; navigation services should and will be provided by an organization able to provide for its long term financing needs by bonding its flow of user fees, free to compete with private enterprise for the skilled personnel needed to manage the world’s largest and most complex air space, financed and governed by its customers, and free of political interference.
  • The claim that Canadian air traffic control costs have increased more rapidly than costs in the United States is incorrect. Nav Canada's charging rates are now only 5% higher than when user fees were fully implemented in 1999, but are one third lower after correcting for inflation since then. By way of contrast, FAA's  cost per unit of workload has increased sharply since 1999.  Moreover, Nav Canada’s cost per IFR flight hour is more than 30% lower than the same cost in the U. S. 
  • The notion that safety will somehow be compromised is bogus.  While the FAA has done an excellent job of operating a complex system safely, in every country in which safety and  aviation navigation service functions have been separated,  the safety record  has been equal to or better than the record prior to separation of the two. That’s only logical, since splitting the functions removes the burden of self- regulation, in which some level of conflict of interest is inherent and inevitable. 
  • The idea that creating an ANSP would disrupt the FAA's effort to implement Next Gen - a broad upgrade of the nation's airspace management system -- is a refutation of reality.  The FAA has struggled for years with  Next Gen, routinely running far behind schedule and far over budget on each of its many components.  The financial uncertainty and political meddling inherent in Congressional supervision are incompatible with optimizing technical progress. 
  • It is disingenuous to claim that the proposed bill gives short shrift to passenger interests. The public interest is never well served by inefficiency, and in the status quo too many flights are delayed and cancelled and too many passengers are left unserved.   We need a more efficient air space management system, and to get it, we need to create an organization that will be funded and governed by its customers.  Those customers will naturally demand a system optimized for both efficiency and economy. The improved system will allow airlines and others to schedule more flights, burn less fuel and make travel both less expensive and more enjoyable.

This is a change that many in the aviation community have been pursuing for decades.  I hope the New York Times Editorial Board will re-think its position and that Democratic politicians will recognize the error of their opposition and work with the bill’s sponsors to produce a change that will benefit both travelers and the nation’s economy.  
  

6 comments:

  1. You are a genius !! I wish more people would heed what you say. The government is a big slow machine that can't see the forest for the trees...

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  2. Anyone who looks at this proposal with any neutrality sees it for what it is, a play by the airlines to control the NAS for their advantage. The U.S. has the best environment for General Aviation in the world and the current system keeps the playing field level between competing interests. If ATC is corporatized GA will fade significantly to a state on par with the rest of the world, where access is difficult and expensive. Just look at the proposed board seats - the largest block goes to the airlines (4 seats). I'm all for improving the current system under the FAA - better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

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  3. Mr. Crandall, I followed you for years when you were CEO of AAL. I have a lot of respect for you, and I am glad that you weighed in on this issue. I would like to offer several thoughts on your comments:

    1) In your second bullet, you draw a line between safety oversight and navigation services provider. I am not at all convinced that these should be separated. Safety oversight is every bit as crucial in ATC as it is anywhere else in the continuum of airline operations. A look at the FAA's Lessons Learned website will make this clear.

    2) In my 30 years in the aviation industry, I have been pleased to see a dramatic increase in safety of airline operations. The change is evidenced by cultural attitude. An airliner crash used to be, "Well, another one went down." Now, the slightest incident, even without loss of life (e.g., two airliners clipping wingtips) is viewed with great concern. Airline travel has become amazingly safe. Credit should be given to all three players - airplane manufacturers, airlines, and regulators, including (perhaps especially) the FAA.
    I would need to see a lot more specifics about what is wrong with the present ATC system in the USA. How any proposed fixes might affect our country's stellar safety record of recent years needs to be scrutinized, without bias.

    3) I also have concerns that others have expressed about possible negative impacts on general aviation. A first look at the makeup of the hypothetical governing board of this proposed non-profit corporation does not give comfort.

    4) I would also like to see the data behind of each of the points that you have made in your op-ed. This may support your concerns, or not. This is new ground for a lot of us. Hopefully, any such non-profit corporation would deliver better on its promises that the USPS has done , where the stakes were a lot lower.

    Thank you again for your input on this thought-provoking subject.

    Abernathy Anonymous

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  4. Demonrat......and you think Hitlery Rotton Clit'n should not go to jail for gross violation of the espionage act and gun running in Bengazi that got four Americans killed. thats it back to Delta I go.........Putnam was right about you. now I know why!

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  5. Bob, can you give the AA Retirees you opinion this issue.

    Kirby was allowed to take the UAL President position without a "non-complete" clause from AA. This means Kirby will take AA short/long term marketing plans, station lease information, yield management, etc.. The "keys to the kingdom".

    I would like to know your opinion on this and did this happen on your watch?

    Cannot tell you how much the Retirees are missing you. Would you be willing to visit the Retirees in Dallas for an open forum?

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