Study says FAA could save $1 billion

As the FAA prepares to close 149 air traffic control towers as part of more than $600 million in spending cuts required by the sequester, a new Reason Foundation study shows how the FAA could save $1 billion a year by consolidating air traffic control centers and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities.

More than 45% of U.S. air traffic control centers and 39% of TRACONs are over 35 years old. Instead of spending money upgrading these old and often isolated air traffic facilities, the Reason Foundation plan shows how air traffic control operations could be merged into large hubs that would guide air traffic throughout regions of the country.

The Reason Foundation plan would generate approximately $1.7 billion in one-time savings by closing over 100 existing air traffic facilities. Going forward, productivity gains and reduced maintenance and facility costs would save $1 billion annually.

“The days of air traffic controllers needing to be right below specific portions of the airspace are over,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation at Reason Foundation. “Today’s technology allows air traffic controllers to guide planes from anywhere. The U.S. air traffic system needs to embrace an air traffic redesign that puts productivity ahead of location.”

“Without consolidating airspace and air traffic facilities, NextGen is at risk of becoming merely a very costly upgrade of hardware and software, without the large productivity gains that should constitute a major portion of the business case for this transition,” said Michael Harrison, one of the study’s co-authors. “And without a timely commitment to large-scale facility consolidation, the Air Traffic Organization will be forced to spend billions in coming decades refurbishing and rehabilitating aging and unneeded facilities. Consequently, the time for action on these issues is now.”

The full report, “Air Traffic Control from Anywhere to Anywhere: The Case for ATC Facility Consolidation,” is online here.

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  1. matt says

    Remember that ATC as it is now set up was for the airlines. They always get the slots or routings available first because they have dispatch staff to file flight plans days ahead of when they are used. GA gets whatever is leftover. Privatized ATC will favor the airlines first, because of their political connections. With the exception of aircraft flying above FL180, GA could exist just fine without ATC at all.

  2. David Gaeddert says

    This is getting too far from flying, too much on politics, imo. Streets, street signs, traffic lights, highway patrol have been and will be publicly/government/tax funded. Air traffic should also stay that way. Ironically, GE, who makes turbine engines for LMT, Lockheed Martin are doing great, as are those who, like me, collect their dividends, pay only 15% fed tax. We in USA have about the best aviation starting with Orville and Wilbur and continuing. If we can save money, OK, but do so carefully and safely.

  3. Terry says

    Seems like the U.S. and Canadian Air Forces consolidated the air defense network, for both countys, at one place back in the 60’s : Cheyanne Mountain, Colorado .

  4. Otto Keesling says

    Be careful, the reason for speading facilities out was to provided reduncancy in the event of a national emergencey. It is true that the total system could be operated from one location. We once thought of three high altitude air route traffic control centers (FL 240 and above) in the US. East coast, west coast and mid west. That does have merit. The overall management of the system is from one location which has the total picture of the air traffic system in the US so it can be done. There is an advantage to having twenty ARTCC’s. That could be combined in the northeast corridor say New York, Boston and Washington Centers. This is not a new idea and one NATCA would not like. Believe it or not New Yorkers like living on Long Island. That is just fine who else would do it. Another thought if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Those who do not understand the complexities of the air traffic system could throughly screw it up that has happened in the past which many would like to forget. People should be considered.

  5. David Gaeddert says

    My neck of the woods–KBUF, Buffalo Niagara Int’l is class ‘C’ 24/7, gov’t run. Niagara Falls, KIAG, is class ‘D’ during the day time, reverting to class ‘E’, contract tower. Which is more expensive, but gets more paying traffic? When wind and clouds let me get up in the air, it’s nice to have pros on site, watching me, on airport and on radar rather than by remote control from some distant center.

  6. AK John says

    Yes, the consolidation approach works in some cases. Northern and southern California have consolidated TRACONS. But note that these are located in relatively close proximity to the airspace they serve. However, I am skeptical as to the real costs of these supposed savings. I also am a bit anxious about putting all of the eggs in one basket. Multiple facilities provides diversity in terms of system reliability and perhaps national security.

    The Boise / Salt Lake consolidation was ultimately shutdown by political action. However, there are technical reasons behind the scenes. I believe there are benefits to talking to controllers who are familiar with the local approach area. The FAA attempts to paint a large cost savings in these consolidations, but this is preached politically without the numbers and analysis to back it up. The Boise/SLC consolidation would have required a radar system update expense well in excess of the advertised savings just to get started. This is because the physical distance between the facilities is beyond the current working plane of the system. This was not considered in the “cost savings” analysis. Makes me wonder what other parts were left out to promote that agenda.

    The “savings” numbers are widely advertised, but the actual cost of implementation is downplayed or hidden. The annual telco costs of remoting the frequencies and radar data is also quite large. These circuits are required to have diverse paths with special reliability specs.

    In the end, we are paying controllers to man 4 scopes in Boise or 4 scopes in SLC. What is our true savings in the end after paying to remote all of the equipment?? We still need the approach radar and radio sites to provide the service.

    I’m all in favor of saving money. But let’s make smart decisions based on real data and safety considerations. The bean counters will take the seat belts and bumpers off the car to save a dime and declare a victory.

  7. Bryan says

    This has nothing to do with cost savings. The “Reason Foundation” is a front organization for the Koch brothers and the Republican Party. The aim here is to privatize government infrastructure, an activity that has resulted in user fees all over the world. Air Traffic Control is a safety system, not a “profit center”. The function of public safety is inherently governmental.

    The Center and Approach facilities that these people, and their allies in AOPA, are in favor of closing are government run. On the other hand they are furious about the closure of privatized towers, the closure of which they claim creates a dangerous situation. Why would closing privatized facilities be dangerous, but closing government facilities not be just as dangerous? This has nothing to do with air safety either.

    • says

      Bryan; From your comment, I can assume you favor a more “socialized” approach rather than an apolitical “practical” no-non-cent$ cost/benefit one? Allow me to offer this scenerio: You have a choice of the current President to manage your personal investment portfolio or Warren Buffet; OK, if you not sure, I suggest you immediately consult Ms. Suzy Orman! Oh, you want the new Ultralight 2013 – you NOT approved!

      • Bryan says

        No genius, I’d like to fly my airplane on reasonably priced fuel, with no user fees, for the next forty years. Get a clue.

        • says

          Clue – very obvious. Apparently your one of many who wants EVERYONE else to foot the bill – thanks for verifing my hunch – and YOUR the very problem with GA! Try “bird” watching “O” fuel costs and NO users fees! NOTE: Caution – you may be subject to dropping!

          • Bryan says

            Yup, clue. I pay $6.50 gallon at the pump for the priviledge of using my own airspace, and ridiculuous amounts of money for certified avionics so a commercial airliner wont run over me while he is using my airspace. GA pays more than it’s share.

          • says

            Your “beef” has some merit . Complain, complain, complain – not enough benefit – like I said earlier – try bird watching!

    • ManyDecadeGA says

      There is no free lunch. The present ATS system is overburdened with obsolete and inefficient processes (such as many current towers that exist only for political reasons) that presently make ATS completely unaffordable by GA if fully allocated costs were charged. GA can’t expect to be heavily subsidized for ATS services indefinitely. So the only choice for GA is to dramatically reduce costs of ATS services and facilities, by doing things like scrapping unneeded towers (whether FAA or contract), and closing useless redundant FSSs, phasing out unneeded and obsolete systems like WAAS, and stopping airspace wasting concepts like LPV, in favor of better and much lower cost concepts like RNP. If this doesn’t happen, few in GA will be able to afford to fly a decade from now. While safety regulation is governmental, ATS is NOT inherently governmental, as most countries around the world already well know.

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