Reason Foundation Challenges NATCA Study Findings

 - October 12, 2007, 7:10 AM

The Reason Foundation, a West Coast public policy think tank that promotes privatization of government, challenged the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) report that denounced ATC privatization, claiming that “corporatized” air traffic control providers handle more than 80 percent of the world’s air traffic and that safety has improved in countries such as Canada and the UK since these nations corporatized operations.

“Overall, the white paper is off-target, in that much of its argument is directed against a form of privatization–outsourcing–that no one has seriously proposed for the national ATC system,” said Robert Poole Jr., founder of the Reason Foundation. “The white paper does acknowledge several examples of ATC reform overseas that do follow the models proposed for this nation: conversion of the FAA’s existing ATC organization into a user-fee-supported business entity.”

In summarizing the foundation’s response to the NATCA white paper, Poole said it “simply takes potshots” at three of the overseas ATC corporations while providing no quantitative data or analysis. He added that it misleads by omission and presents its case only in the form of anecdotes and assertions.

“It fails to explain the global trend toward converting ATC departments of government into user-fee-supported ATC corporations,” said Poole. “That trend now extends to 29 nations (including much of Europe, Canada and both Australia and New Zealand). Corporatized ATC providers now control more than 80 percent of the world’s air traffic and well over half the world’s airspace.”

Reason argues that its own report clarifies NATCA’s “mistaken claims” that the Bush Administration is attempting to privatize ATC. None of the proposals calls for contracting out ATC to a private, for-profit company, the foundation said. In fact, all of the existing proposals for ATC reform involve structural and financial reorganization of the existing system by converting it into a businesslike operation either within the FAA (Mineta Commission proposal, 1997); as a separate government corporation (President Clinton’s U.S. Air Traffic Services proposal, 1994); or as a separate nonprofit corporation similar to Nav Canada (Reason Foundation proposal, 2001).

According to the latest Reason Foundation report, the NATCA white paper sets up a strawman–outsourcing of the entire ATC system to a private, for-profit contractor–and knocks it down. But the NATCA white paper fails to answer the long-standing case for fundamental structural and financial reform of a system that is in need of major change, it suggested.

“This conflict is truly about who will ultimately control the U.S. ATC system,” said Reason. “Will it continue to be the employee unions, as under the status quo? Or will it be the system’s users–its actual customers–via creation of an ATC corporation?”