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Reason Foundation

Our Air Traffic Control System Is Outdated and Wasteful

November 18, 2009, 11:12am

As the holiday travel rush approaches, air travelers grounded by delays should take a moment to think about why they're stuck in airports or on the tarmac. There's a good chance Washington is to blame.

"The air traffic control system in the United States is technologically obsolete," says Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation. "This model is basically the same model that we have used since the beginning of air travel."

The technology the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses to navigate $200 million jets is less advanced than the GPS technology drivers use to navigate $20,000 cars.

Poole says the system could safely handle more planes if the FAA used modern technology that would provide real-time information about where planes are. But the funding process, overseen by pork-hungry members of Congress, often thwarts technology upgrades. 

The only way to get the politics out of our air traffic system is to take the system away from the politicians. Why not let a private corporation manage the skies?

That may sound like a far-out, free-market idea, but Canada doesn't think so.

Our neighbors to the north often take pride in their lavish government programs, yet they allow a private corporation called Nav Canada to manage their air-traffic control system. Canada's approach, often called commercialization, has some surprising supporters in the U.S., including Al Gore, who pushed for commercialization when he was Bill Clinton's vice president.

"Your Flight Has Been Delayed" is written and produced by Ted Balaker. Director of Photography: Alex Manning; Field Producers: Paul Detrick and Hawk Jensen. The host is Nick Gillespie.

Approximately 7.28 minutes. Go here for embed code and downloadable versions. 

Reason's Air Traffic Control Research

Poole's Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter



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