Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Another View: Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control system worth keeping

Doug Winston

By Doug Winston

Douglas S. Winston is a retired petroleum engineer and has been an instrument rated commercial pilot for 33 years. He has a perfect safety record thanks to Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers who, he says, "have saved my bacon on more than one occasion."

Michael Turnipseed's Viewpoints column blaming the FAA and the air traffic control system for airline delays is simply wrong ("Let’s bring air traffic control system into 21st century,” Sept. 25). He is using talking points taken directly from the airlines themselves, which are trying to gain control of the air traffic control system using a private non-profit business concept to their advantage and the detriment of general aviation and rural America.

This would be like having the largest trucking companies control the national highway system. Do you think automobile drivers would benefit from that?

As for his comment that other countries are far ahead, also wrong.

The U.S. air traffic control system is a model for the world. It is the largest, most modern, safest system. Most airline delays occur primarily due to weather and the airlines themselves. Specifically, airline scheduling practices and lack of airport capacity. I challenge Turnipseed to fly with me into Los Angeles airspace and experience firsthand how the ATC system works. He will quickly see that big city airports are forced to capacity. You can’t make things go any faster than they already are at these locations because you simply can’t safely make aircraft fly closer together at these locations.

How many times have you been forced to wait on the tarmac because there’s a plane at your gate? Turnipseed mentions old fashioned 1940s radar. Well, today's radar is not your grandad’s radar. We’ve had altitude encoding for decades now, so aircraft are seen in three dimensions as well as their identity, type, ground speed and direction of flight. Conflicts due to converging aircraft sound alarms to prevent mid-air collisions.

Turnipseed also mentions superior ATC in other countries that don’t use radar. The problem is there are none. Radar is used in Europe, Asia and every other developed country. We also have ground radar at busy airports like LAX. Turnipseed does not mention that in addition to horrendous fuel taxes in Europe, they also charge fees for services (landing, flight service, ATC and many more) which creates a humongous bureaucracy and the reason general aviation in Europe is tiny and horribly expensive when compared to the U.S.

ATC is only one division of many in the FAA which is a part of the Department of Transportation. Some hard numbers straight from the FAA:

• Some 5,000 aircraft in the sky at any given time.

• 43,864 flights per day were handled by FAA in 2016; that's over 16 million flights for the year.

• 39.9 billion pounds of freight were flown in 2016

• Aviation contributes 5.1 percent to the U. S. GDP; aviation jobs create over $446 Billion in annual earnings.

In other words, ATC makes us one heck of a lot of money and operates many moving parts that keep us safe in the air. ATC can be and is funded by jet fuel and avgas taxes. Congress needs to remove it from the federal sequestration requirements and let it stand on its own, giving ATC a stable funding source.

There is innovation and modern technology on a huge scale here as well. By January 2020, a major part of NextGen will be fully implemented, removing radar as the primary aircraft location and separation technology. It eliminates radar blind spots (mountains, etc.), updates many times per second instead of every sweep of a radar beam and is more accurate.

My own little Cessna will have this technology installed by then to fly in complex airspace. I choose to wait until the last minute to do so because it's going to cost me $3,000 to $4,000. Those paper strips that are used by ATC are preferred by the controllers; that's the reason they are still used. Not because better technology doesn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a small government advocate and the FAA is far from perfect, but the FAA is improving its practices and NextGen is awesome. With all due respect, Turnipseed is creating a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist because he doesn’t know the facts and has never experienced the system.

Throwing out one of the most successful government systems would cost tens of billions more and create another too big to fail private entity. Ever hear of Amtrak and the USPS? If you are happy with those government non-profits (and I use that term because they do nothing but lose the taxpayer’s money), then you’ll love privatized air traffic control.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.bakersfield.com

Michael Turnipseed

Let’s bring our air traffic control system into the 21st century


Michael Turnipseed is executive director of KernTax.

America pioneered aviation. Since the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, we have led the world in air travel. But, like most great American innovations, the passing decades have added bureaucratic morass and unnecessary costs that stifle productivity, burden the taxpayers and threaten our leadership in the world.

So it’s time to shake off the rust and modernize our country’s aviation system. Fortunately, Congress has the power to act now, but it needs to act quickly to turn things around.

The current system under the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t working.

Representing taxpayers here in Kern County, we should be concerned that despite spending billions of taxpayer dollars to try modernizing our country’s air traffic control system over the last 30 years, the system still depends on 1940s-era radar technology, while other countries are springing ahead with better systems at a fraction of the cost.

It gets worse: After billions in taxpayer spending, our air traffic controllers are still managing the movement of planes by manually passing paper strips from controller to controller.

We believe it is important to ensure every taxpayer in Kern County knows there is legislation that our congressional members can vote to support that will save taxpayer dollars and reduce the continual air travel delays.

Government agencies, watchdog groups and aviation experts have documented for years the FAA’s chronic inability to improve its air traffic systems. But it’s not for lack of spending. In 2009, the FAA unveiled its behemoth modernization campaign called “NextGen,” which proposes ongoing spending projects through the year 2025. So far, these “NextGen” projects have cost well more than $7 billion, without realizing any benefits for taxpayers or travelers.

Many of us have experienced the frustration when we drive down to Burbank or LAX: You arrive at the airport on time for your flight only to realize it’s been delayed again, and again, and again. And all the while, who takes responsibility for the delays? In fact, LAX has the fourth highest rate in the nation of total arrival delay minutes that is attributed to air traffic. The highest rate is at SFO — San Francisco International.

After spending $7 billion in taxpayers’ money, there is still zero accountability. Today, “NextGen” is widely regarded as simply a marketing ploy to keep Congress funding its failing projects. In fact, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation recently warned that if the FAA implements the full menu of its proposed “NextGen” projects, it will cost taxpayers as much $120 billion, and it will take an additional decade to complete. And by then, the technology will be obsolete. Our country is not on a forward-moving track when it comes to aviation upgrades.

The problem is a broken governance and financing structure that has changed little since the FAA was created in 1958. The agency is expected to operate as an agile high-tech service provider when in reality it is a lumbering government bureaucracy of nearly 50,000 employees. But the FAA’s difficulties should not be a surprise. When “NextGen” was launched nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report finding “the FAA faces cultural and organizational challenges in implementing NextGen capabilities.”

That is why I am urging our representatives in Congress to pass the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, or AIRR Act, which would cut the red tape in Washington and use commonsense management principles to put American jobs, American innovation and the traveling public first again.

The AIRR Act would establish a federally chartered, fully independent nonprofit organization to operate and modernize our nation’s air traffic control services. Rather than rely on a massive government bureaucracy, the AIRR Act’s nonprofit would be set up as a business with a CEO who is accountable to a board of directors chosen by aviation experts and users. They would have access to capital markets, the freedom to invest in a modern air traffic control system, and authority to make decisions based on realities in the market instead of dysfunctional political interests.

Importantly, the FAA would still have total authority to regulate air traffic for safety — it just wouldn't be in charge of making improvements or, in the FAA’s case, spending billions of taxpayers’ money.

These changes would get aviation improvements back on track, and save taxpayers billions while ensuring a safe, efficient and modern air traffic system for America’s future.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.bakersfield.com

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