Inspector General Audit Report Raps ATC Tower Efficiency

The tower at Washington Dulles International Airport was among those ranked ‘frequently least efficient.’ (Photo: Bill Carey)

Inefficient operation of some ATC towers the Federal Aviation Administration manages cost the U.S. government $853 million in additional controller hours and equipment over a five-year period, according to the Department of Transportation inspector general. The FAA agreed with its parent organization that tower efficiency can be improved, but said the IG’s methodology in assessing efficiency is flawed.

In an audit report it released to the public on August 24, the IG found that inefficient towers on average required $142 million in additional costs each year relative to efficient towers from fiscal years 2008 through 2013—or $853 million in total. The office found a wide disparity it the towers it assessed as either efficient or non-efficient. “While we found a large share of towers to be relatively efficient in each year that we examined, the gap between their performance and that of the least efficient towers was substantial,” the report states.

The report landed at a sensitive time for the FAA. In pending legislation to reauthorize the agency’s spending programs, the U.S. Congress is considering a fundamental restructuring that would separate its ATC and regulatory functions. One possible model would see the Air Traffic Organization spun off as a not-for-profit entity, comparable to some air navigation service providers.

The IG determined tower efficiency by assigning weighted values to “inputs,” including labor hours and equipment, and “outputs,” including the number of air traffic operations handled. It then calculated the ratio of the weighted sum of outputs to the weighted sum of inputs. The analysis was separated into two parts; it compared busier airport hub towers to each other and non-hub towers to non-hub towers. Nevertheless, the “environmental difficulty” a tower faces, taking into account factors such as the percentage of local traffic, runway configuration and the number of runways “is not the primary determinant of whether a tower is relatively efficient or inefficient,” the office found.

Large hub airport towers the IG ranked as “consistently relatively efficient” are: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Newark Liberty, Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Las Vegas McCarran, La Guardia, Chicago O’Hare and San Diego airports. Those identified as “frequently least efficient” are: Boston Logan, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Washington Dulles International, Orlando, Chicago Midway, Seattle-Tacoma and Salt Lake City airports.

The difference between relatively efficient and inefficient hub airport towers “is not necessarily a consequence of the inefficient towers using less productive combinations of labor hours and equipment to do their work,” the IG stated. “Instead, the difference results at least in part from the fact that the inefficient towers are actually using more of each input to handle their operations and prepare trainees.”

In a response to the findings attached to the audit report, the FAA agreed that tower efficiency can be improved. But the IG’s comparative analysis and ranking methodology for tower efficiency “is flawed for several reasons,” the agency said. Among them, the office did not consider that the FAA closes some ATC towers at night for more cost-effective handling of traffic; did not consider the relative use of contractor resources by towers; and used the “book value” of equipment as an input, making towers with newer equipment look relatively more expensive. “The agency’s position is that any meaningful facility-to-facility comparison should reflect the variables noted above, as well as other relevant facility-specific variables,” the FAA said.

Asked for its reaction to the IG report, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association cited the agency’s rebuttal, adding that it would leave any response to the FAA.

By Bill Carey, as reported on

2017-06-13T02:14:56-06:00 August 26th, 2015|ATC, Aviation News, Aviation Safety, FAA, Privatization|

Amazon, Google Want Changes To Low-Altitude Airspace For UAS

Amazon and Google are proposing changes to low-altitude airspace to enable widespread use of small unmanned aircraft, including for package delivery. Central to both proposals is allowing private-sector entities, rather than the FAA, to manage airspace operations.

Amazon proposes segregating airspace below 500 ft. to buffer small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations from current manned aviation activity and to buffer lesser-equipped air vehicles from highly equipped vehicles operating beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) and able to avoid collisions.

Google proposes using available technology including cellular networks, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and automotive vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications to enable UAS to operate as manned aviation does today in Class G uncontrolled airspace.

Developing an air traffic system that enables safe operations of highly automated UAS flying beyond line-of-sight is essential to realizing the “enormous benefits” of the technology, says Amazon, which is developing the Prime Air unmanned delivery system.

The online retail giant proposes segregating airspace below 500 ft. into four zones. Airspace below 200 ft., or the low-speed localized traffic area, would be reserved for operations such as surveying, videography and inspection that do not involve transiting the airspace.

Lesser-equipped vehicles, lacking sense-and-avoid (SAA) systems, would be confined to this area and would not be allowed access to certain airspace within the zone, such as over heavily populated areas.

Between 200-400 ft., the high-speed transit area, would be designated for well-equipped UAS “as determined by the relevant performance standards and rules,” says the Amazon proposal.

Airspace between 400-500 ft. would serve as a permanent no-fly zone where small UAS would be forbidden to fly, except in emergencies, to provide a buffer between unmanned and manned aviation operations.

Finally, predefined low-risk locations with altitude restrictions and equipage requirements would be established by aviation authorities; designated hobbyist airfields fall under this heading.

“We will carefully evaluate Amazon’s suggestions, but a detailed technical review of the proposal will take time,” says the FAA.  “We are working with industry to identify mechanisms for considering proposals such as Amazon’s and Google’s, which may be tied to RTCA’s work on developing industry standards

[for UAS].”

Google’s proposal for Class G airspace below 500 ft. is to have airspace service providers (ASP) perform UAS traffic planning, airspace supervision and separation assurance using existing cellular networks. The UAS would give way to manned aircraft by listening to existing ADS-B channels and maneuvering to avoid a collision.

An “ADS-B-like” system, such as cellular device-to-device or automotive V2V links, would provide short-range UAS-to-UAS collision avoidance. Google is developing a low-cost, low-power ADS-B transceiver for use in unmanned aircraft.

The search giant’s proposal requires the FAA to amend its mandate for ADS-B Out equipage by 2020 to include helicopters flying below 500 ft. over populated areas, which could meet opposition from operators, but Google says its low-cost ADS-B system will be suitable for manned aircraft.

“We appreciate both Amazon’s and Google’s good-faith efforts to begin a dialog with other users of the airspace—especially the helicopter industry, which is the aviation sector most likely to operate in the low-altitude airspace they envision using—and their recognition that these are starting points,” says the Helicopter Association International. “We see nothing in their initial proposal that would restrict access to low-altitude airspace.”

Under Google’s proposal, ASPs would be the interface between UAS operators and FAA air traffic control (ATC). They would provide data to operators on airspace restrictions, weather, obstacles and other unmanned and manned traffic. The data would be used to plan coordinated, conflict-free routes.

Google would be the ASP for its Project Wing UAS delivery fleet and be part of a federated network with other ASPs, such as Amazon for its Prime Air operations and providers serving other low-altitude airspace users such as hobbyists.

“To ensure openness of the airspace and spur competition, anyone should be able to create an ASP,” says Google’s proposal. “However, all ASPs must be networked to share the traffic and flight plan data with each other and with ATC.”

The projected UAS industry growth “requires the delegation of responsibility for many traditional air navigation services,” says Amazon. “There should be a controlling entity that serves a central, offline coordination and auditing function; however many of these services will be handled in a more distributed and federated fashion where multiple operators cover overlapping areas, each managing their own fleet.”

Amazon also proposes a “best-equipped, best-served” model where airspace access is determined by vehicle capabilities, and outlines four classes of equipage: basic, good, better and best.

“Basic” is radio-control flight within line-of-sight (LOS) in low-risk areas. “Good” would allow unrestricted daytime LOS flight below 200 ft. in rural areas and limited suburban operations. This requires the UAS to be able to announce its identify, location and activity via V2V, receive air traffic and weather information, provide proximity alerting via V2V, and connect to the Internet via the ground station.

“Better” adds an autopilot capable of automatic deconfliction via collaborative V2V, on-vehicle Internet connection and ADS-B Out, and would allow LOS flight below 400 ft. in suburban areas and limited urban operations.

“Best-equipped” adds sensor-based noncollaborative SAA, online 4-D trajectory planning and execution, geospatial data on all hazards above 200 ft., ADS-B In/Out, onboard vehicle condition monitoring and the ability to land at an alternate site. This would enable BLOS flight below 400 ft. in all areas, and allow one operator to control more than one vehicle, says Amazon.

“Operators seeking broad airspace access in multiple environments will need to have highly-equipped vehicles,” the proposal says. “They will also need to minimize interaction with lesser-equipped [small UAS] as well as the occasional manned aircraft flying at low altitude.”

“The proposal from Amazon to equip ‘Best’-class UAS with sense-and-avoid equipment is intriguing, but we are concerned that the plan does not account for low-level manned aviation operations, such as agricultural, firefighting, emergency medical and wildlife survey operations,” says Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

“If Amazon intends for the airspace below 500 ft. to only be available to manned aircraft in transitional airspace circumstances that ‘will not fly’ with manned aerial applicators and the many other pilots that consistently, and not just transitionally, fly in low-level airspace,” he says.

Google proposes an airspace security system based on how pilots and operators today establish a traceable identity. This would use the public key infrastructure to verify the identity of an operator submitting a flight plan request. This would “enable compliance and responsibility through identity,” Google says.

By Graham Warwick, as reported on

Aviation funding bill up in the air

Photo: Getty Images

The unfinished debate over highway funding in Congress is likely to ground hopes for passing a new funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA bill, which includes funding for air traffic controllers, is scheduled to expire Sept. 30. But Congress is expected to return its focus on highways upon returning to Washington next month, because lawmakers punted debate on a long-term surface transportation-funding bill into October before leaving for their August recess.

 Air travel advocates are worried that the twin cliffs will mean aviation will get the short end of the stick when lawmakers return to Washington.

“It seems things are trending in that direction,” Erik Hansen, U.S. Travel Association senior director of domestic policy, told The Hill on Tuesday, when asked if the prolonged highway funding debate means the FAA is heading for a short-term extension.

“The surface bill seems to be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room and that could mean more delays for aviation,” Hansen continued. “There’s a packed floor schedule

[in the fall], and getting a bill through committees and both chambers and through a conference could be difficult.”

The FAA deadline has flown under the radar for most of the year as lawmakers have focused on the highway funding measure, which initially had a May 31 deadline. The new cutoff point, established by a patch passed by Congress last week, is Oct. 29. Lawmakers have pledged to dive back into the highway funding debate in September.

Already, there are rumors that a House markup scheduled to consider the FAA bill in September will be replaced with a hearing on a multiyear highway bill.

Complicating matters further is a push from House Republicans to privatize some functions of air traffic control. The effort has riled unions.

Hansen said Tuesday that the privatization push will be difficult lift for GOP leaders during a monthlong sprint that will ensue after Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 8.

“We already heard comments from [House Transportation Committee] Ranking Member [Peter] DeFazio [D-Ore.] that there is going to have to be some type of extension,” he said. “The question is, how long?”

The FAA has been at the center of budget battles in Washington before. The agency’s last funding measure, in 2012, was passed following a string of more than 20 temporary extensions that resulted in a partial shutdown of the agency in 2011.

The FAA’s funding was also cut in the 2013 sequester, resulting in air traffic controller furloughs and flight delays, before Congress passed a quick fix to restore the spending.

Aviation industry groups in Washington are focused now on avoiding those kinds of standoffs, even if they have to accept at least one more temporary extension while Congress finishes off the highway bill.

“Both the House and Senate understand how critical aviation is to the economy and jobs, and we are committed to working collaboratively with Congress to deliver an FAA bill that our industry needs and our customers deserve,” the group that lobbies for airlines, Airlines for America, said in a statement that was provided to The Hill.

The American Association of Airport Executives said it is important for Congress to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of repeated aviation funding extensions, however.

“With the memory of 23 short-term extensions during the last reauthorization cycle still fresh in mind, it’s clear that Congress needs to move swiftly to provide long-term certainty and avoid another series of temporary patches that result in disruptions to the programs of the FAA, missed construction seasons in parts of the country, and lost jobs,” the group said in a statement.

U.S. Travel’s Hansen said the aviation industry has an advantage because it does not have the kind of funding crunch that has marked the highway debate, as lawmakers have tried fervently to avoid raising gas taxes.

“The difficulty on the surface side is that you have to come up with pay-fors each time,” he said. “You don’t have that on the aviation side.”

But Hansen said the privatization effort is a sticky-enough issue that it could result in the same type of gridlock that has marked the highway funding debate.

“There’s a packed agenda, a packed floor and building consensus takes time, especially on major issues like air traffic control reform,” he said.

By Keith Laing, as reported on

2017-06-13T02:14:58-06:00 August 7th, 2015|ATC, Aviation News, Economics of Aviation, FAA, Government Regulation, Privatization|

Symposium Reveals Support, Opposition to U.S. ATC Reform

Shown is the tower at Calgary International Airport. Nav Canada is considered a model for the U.S. ATC system. (Photo: Nav Canada)

Industry participants and interested parties gathered to discuss the future of the U.S. air traffic control system at a Transportation Research Board (TRB) event that revealed both support and ongoing opposition to the transformational change some members of Congress propose. That change, if it comes, will be advanced in the coming months in legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

We believe that we have a real and rare opportunity with the current leadership in Congress and the administration to make a change that is going to benefit the system for everyone,” said Airlines for America (A4A) senior vice president Sharon Pinkerton, one of the panelists at the TRB symposium July 7 in Washington, D.C.A4A believes the FAA’s current Air Traffic Organization should be separated from its regulatory function, Pinkerton added, describing a model resembling an air navigation service provider, or ANSP. “We believe that organization should be adequately funded with an equitable and fair funding mechanism and we believe that there should be a governance board that is made up of stakeholders and users,” she said.

Speaking on a different panel, Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy with the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy institute, questioned the airline industry’s commitment to organizational reform and the associated need to upgrade the nation’s ATC infrastructure—the goal of the FAA’s NextGen program. “Modernization will not come cheap,” he said. “I have often heard proponents of privatization argue that the airline industry would be willing to bear the cost of modernization if they knew it would be well run by the ANSP. This claim, perhaps above all, requires some skepticism.”

DeGood observed that airlines collected $10.2 billion in ancillary revenues in 2013. Charging ancillary revenues as part of the base ticket fare, he said, would generate more than $800 million in ticket taxes for the airport and airway trust fund that supports the FAA. “I submit this is an industry that is not in a hurry to pay for the current system, let alone modernization,” he declared. “This leaves the prospect that the ANSP would face stiff resistance to levying the taxes or user fees necessary to realize NextGen modernization.”

Representatives of UK NATS, Germany’s DFS and Nav Canada described those organizations as, respectively, a public-private partnership, a government-owned LLC and a non-share capital corporation. Michael Korens, a former U.S. Senate aviation subcommittee counsel who Nav Canada described as its “general rep” in Washington, and who has also registered as a lobbyist for its Aireon satellite surveillance joint venture with Iridium Communications, spoke highly of the Canadian ANSP.

Spun-off from regulatory agency Transport Canada in 1996, Nav Canada is considered a model for the organization the U.S. might create. “Nineteen years into the exercise, this is a seriously stress-tested agency,” Korens said. “Safety is significantly better today. As measured by losses of separation they are half today what they were under Transport Canada. Fees today are 30 percent lower than they were under Transport Canada on a current-dollar basis. They’ve renewed virtually all of the air traffic control infrastructure and modernized it. They’ve taken the ATM (air traffic management) development in-house and have gone from depending on outside system integrators…to having a world class suite of products that they sell around the world.”

In a June 15 speech to the Aero Club of Washington, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he envisions creating a “federally chartered, fully independent, not-for-profit corporation” to operate and upgrade the ATC system. “We will establish a stable, self-sustaining, and fair user fee funding structure for ATC, removed from the budget process and the annual appropriations cycle, and free from the funding uncertainty,” he declared. Earlier this month, the committee informed aviation groups that it will likely defer releasing FAA reauthorization legislation to the full House until September, several weeks later than expected.


By Bill Carey, as reported on


2017-06-13T02:15:03-06:00 July 9th, 2015|ATC, Blog, FAA, Government Regulation, Privatization|

ATC Reform Snowballs On Capitol Hill

House lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill shortly that could reshape the FAA, moving either some or allATC functions to a new organization. Lawmakers face a September 30 deadline to adopt new FAAreauthorization legislation. Debate on that bill in recent months has increasingly turned to the future of ATC andwhether it should be privatized or turned into a government corporation.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I), has been at the center of the reform effort, making it clear that he believes ATC reform is not only possible but imperative. Shuster has consistently reiterated his vision of “transformative” change for the FAA, upholding private nonprofit and/or separate government air traffic management systems run by other countries as examples. Speaking before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 14th annual Aviation Summit earlier this year, he said, “We don’t need an FAA reauthorization that does half measures. I won’t do that.”

This view is shared by groups such as Airlines for America, which asked lawmakers to look at a new ATCstructure that would involve an independent, multi-stakeholder governing board and a “fair” self-funding model based on costs of services. American Airlines chairman and CEO and A4A vice chairman Doug Parker testified before a March 24 House aviation subcommittee on ATC reform that a successful organization must be able to manage assets and capital that facilitates modernization at a far greater speed. An air traffic organization also must have effective management teams that can be nimble “without the constraints imposed on government agencies.” Funding should be free from budget constraints and either short-term or declining appropriations, and governance should involve multiple stakeholders, he said.

Parker underscored the need for change, given the significant cost overruns and constraints of existing structure. The organization has been studying models of other countries to see if the U.S. could adopt structures or practices of those organizations. “Many other countries have taken it on, and we have the benefit of learning from their combined experience,” Parker said.


Key to winning support for such a transformation is securing backing from the nation’s air traffic controllers. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca), gave a speech in April calling on Washington leaders to transform the country’s ATC system, but he stopped short of endorsing a model similar to those adopted by other countries and declined to back a specific funding mechanism. In fact, he was cautious about adopting wholesale a system such as Nav Canada’s without fully understanding whether it is scalable. Canada has one of the busiest 10 airports in the world; the U.S. has eight of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30, Rinaldi said. “It’s easy for them to modernize when they have one major airport they need to worry about,” he said. Nav Canada manages 12 million operations a year, while the U.S. manages 140 million. “I don’t know if it’s scalable,” he said. “I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and look at it and see if it’s scalable.”

Despite this concern, Rinaldi more recently has appeared to back the concept of a government corporation, leading some lobbyists to believe that House lawmakers are nearing agreement on a new ATC structure.

Backing some of this debate for reform is a report released by the National Research Council (NRC) that traces the delays and cost overruns of NextGen, and recommends that the FAA, Congress and airspace stakeholders “reset expectations.” The report notes NextGen has moved away from the initial sweeping transformational goal to a “much more concrete set of phased incremental changes” that closely replicate existing capabilities, such as satellite navigation replacing radar functionality “rather than the reinvention of flight.”

While momentum has clearly grown for a separate ATC function–so much so that House appropriators acknowledged the effort in the Fiscal Year 2016 transportation appropriations bill–the shape of such a proposal remains elusive. Few details have surfaced on structure or funding of such an entity.

Also unclear is whether Shuster can ensure a sign-off from the Administration, other lawmakers in the House and his counterparts in the Senate. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told the Senate Commerce Committee that the Obama Administration is open to discussing alternative models, but warned of possible unintended consequences.

“We need to ask the question of what exactly the problem is that we are trying to solve,” Huerta said, maintaining that the FAA is making progress in modernization and is delivering benefits through a combination of technologies and operational procedures. Any changes in governing structure must ensure stable funding, a high level of safety and a “tight linkage” between the operational and regulatory side, he said. “I would be fearful of any structure that puts a wall in those relationships,” he said. “Can alternative government structures get us there? Possibly. But we need to recognize that there may be unintended consequences.”

Other members on Shuster’s own committee have expressed skepticism. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House aviation subcommittee, has asked dozens of questions about such a structure. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking member of the T&I committee, also raised constitutionality questions about delegating functions outside the FAA. But DeFazio also has appeared willing to contemplate such a concept.

Meanwhile, House appropriators, who control FAA funding, have made it clear they expect Congress to retain control of any new ATC structure, an expectation that many corporatize/privatization advocates are hoping to change. The House Appropriations Committee included language in the Fiscal Year 2016 transportation appropriations bill saying, “The Committee believes that congressional oversight of agency resources is necessary to ensure accountability for program performance and a sustained focus on aviation safety.”

As for the Senate, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has expressed openness for dialog, saying, “I applaud Chairman Shuster…on his consideration of new approaches that may yield better results and deliver the promised benefits of NextGen.”

FAA workers are divided on this issue. While Natca may offer support, other unions have stated clear opposition to a separate ATC organization. The leaders of seven different FAA unions appealed to House lawmakers to reject efforts to privatize the agency’s ATC functions, saying, “We do not agree that a massive change to theFAA’s structure is the solution to the funding problem.”


Business aviation advocates have been closely monitoring these activities, concerned that an effort to corporatize or privatize could result in a governing structure that could harm access or lead to an entire new user fee structure. NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen has cautioned that the U.S. has the most complex and diverse system in the world, and other systems have led to access concerns. Business aviation either gets lower priority or is squeezed out of certain locations. These systems are typically paid through user fees, which require a costly bureaucracy to collect, Bolen noted. Any new system must be equitable, transparent and preserve general aviation access, he said.

NATA president and CEO Tom Hendricks also cautioned against getting swept into the “separate ATC” push, saying the aviation community is “unfortunately suffering from a bad case of ‘group think’ that pillories both the institution of the FAA and its thousands of highly skilled and dedicated employees.”

Hendricks noted that “no one in the aviation community suggests accepting the status quo,” adding, “Good changes…are under way and we need to keep the pressure on for more and faster changes.” But he also warned, “Before we leap too far down the proposed path of some pundits, to remove the ATC system from its governmental role to a network run by users, let’s avoid basing any decisions upon outdated, unrealistic expectations.”

Getting a comprehensive agreement on a new structure may prove difficult. Not only does he have to get enough of the various interests in line, Shuster himself has had to deal with several news articles questioning whether his reported relationship with A4A vice president of global government affairs Shelley Rubino has posed a conflict of interest. This attention was followed by another article from the Washington insider publication Politico about unrelated fundraising activities in the Virgin Islands. Washington observers do not believe this media attention will interfere with Shuster’s duties as chairman, as long as the glare does not grow more intense.

Time may serve as the single largest obstacle to resolving the issue. With the upcoming Fourth of July and August/Labor Day breaks, Congress has limited legislative days before the September30 deadline to pass a reauthorization bill. Neither industry nor lawmakers have much appetite for another round of short-term extensions, similar to those that occurred in the last FAA reauthorization cycle. Larsen has warned: “I find it difficult to foresee an on-time FAA reauthorization bill if we are to tackle this topic.” He added that stakeholders must produce a proposal or risk “the chaotic path of multiple short-term FAA bills.”

By: Kerry Lynch, as reported on

2017-06-13T02:15:08-06:00 May 20th, 2015|FAA, Government Regulation, Privatization|

Shape of U.S. ATC Reform Debated, ‘Transformation’ in Doubt

Photo: Nav Canada

Photo: Nav Canada

December 16, 2014

The ATC system in the U.S. may be eventually restructured to a privatized business model, but dramatic change will not likely happen when Congress passes the next legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, according to people involved in drafting the bill. The discussion at a recent Air Line Pilots Association (Alpa) conference also demonstrated that U.S. controllers oppose a major change.

The current FAA authorization bill, which President Obama signed in February 2012, expires next September 30, the end of federal Fiscal Year 2015. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has called for “transformational” new legislation. He has also spoken favorably of the Nav Canada business model of a private, non-share corporation that provides ATC services.

At the Alpa “Future of Aviation” conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, Rich Swayze, FAA assistant administrator for policy, international affairs and environment, said Congress will be challenged to pass a disruptive new FAA reauthorization bill. “A lot of people have been talking about transformational reform,” he said. If that is the goal, “there’s a lot of work to be done between now and September 30.”

Swayze, a former top aviation aide to the Senate Commerce Committee before joining the FAA earlier this year, said the agency is focused on problem solving and has not decided on what shape a restructured ATC system should take. Privatizing Nav Canada and UK NATS and separating them from the regulatory agencies in those countries took years, he noted. “I don’t think any other country provides an exact plan for how we have transformational reform in the U.S.,” Swayze said.

Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (Natca), the union that represents most U.S. controllers, said the nation’s ATC system is run by a top-heavy FAA bureaucracy and has been hurt by the budget reductions Congress imposed through “sequestration,” which took effect in March 2013. The mandated cuts forced the FAA to begin furloughing controllers until Congress restored funding, interrupted training at the ATC academy in Oklahoma City and slowed the NextGen modernization. “Sequestration is a “game-changer,” he said. “This current system has served us well and I’m a defender of the current system.” But “the future under sequestration is bleak.”

Rinaldi also threw cold water on the idea that either Nav Canada or UK NATS offer viable alternatives for the U.S. ATC system. “Everyone talks about Nav Canada—Nav Canada seems to be the system,” he remarked. But the transition in that country from a government-owned ATC agency to a privatized air navigation service provider (Ansp) “involved 10 years of struggle.” Similarly, Ansps in Europe now compete against each other. Rinaldi noted that UK NATS recently lost a contract to provide tower services at London’s Gatwick Airport to Germany’s DFS, a German state-owned company. “We don’t want to do the UK system,” he said. “They have major problems and major issues.”

Offering a contrasting opinion was Sean Kennedy, senior vice president for global government affairs with Airlines for America (A4A), which represents major U.S. carriers. Kennedy said that Nav Canada and European Ansps have some good features, including “more predictable and stable funding and governance.” Three White House blue-ribbon panels have already studied reforming the ATC system, he said, and A4A favors significant improvements. “We’re encouraging The Hill to go big, go long,” he said, in reference to Congress.

By Bill Carey, as reported on