New study illustrates roadblocks to modernizing ATC

WASHINGTON D.C. — A new Hudson Institute study finds that America’s air traffic control system has fallen seriously behind modern information technology. Case studies illustrate the organizational roadblocks preventing the FAA from modernizing its flight procedures, communications and navigation technology, and governing structure.

The report also outlines the steps necessary to bring the US system back to the forefront of global air transportation.

“Organization and Innovation in Air Traffic Control” was prepared by Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation and a leading authority on aviation issues.

Key findings from the report include:

  • US air traffic control has yet to enter the Digital Age and still relies on technology developed in the 1960s.
  • An upgraded system would bring tremendous savings in time, fuel, and expense; enhanced safety; and improved environmental quality.
  • The FAA is hobbled by government budget constraints, procurement rules, and multiple layers of political oversight. It lacks the incentives and resources to keep pace with the needs of the aviation community and growth in air traffic.

The most advanced and innovative systems are in nations — such as Australia, Canada, Germany, the UK, and New Zealand — that have moved air traffic control into single-mission organizations that charge directly for their services, issue revenue bonds for capital improvements, and are governed by aviation stakeholders.

The report notes that a similar approach would be highly feasible for the US — and is attracting increasing support because of the federal government’s budget problems and the growing gap between our air traffic system and state-of-the-art technology.

“Organization and Innovation in Air Traffic Control” will be the subject of a panel discussion on Thursday, Jan. 16, from 10 am to 12 pm, at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Participants will include report author Robert W. Poole; Craig L. Fuller, chairman of The Fuller Company and former president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; Stephen Van Beek, executive director of policy and strategy for LeighFisher and former member of the FAA’s Management Advisory Council; and Christopher DeMuth, Distinguished Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“Organization and Innovation in Air Traffic Control,” a publication of the Hudson Institute Initiative on Future Innovation, is posted online. Hard copies are available on request.


  1. akjohn says

    Ok – We aren’t perfect. But I am always suspicious of studies that only find one side of an issue. There are pros and cons to both systems. However, the statements and supposed key findings are often stated without specific justification. What is meant by entering the digital age and what technology is from the 60’s? AM broadcast was invented around 1920 and RADAR was significantly developed in the 40’s. The FAA systems are supported by digital radar now and has been for over 20 years. The ATC system is widely digitized and uses the same international contractors that other countries utilize. I look forward to upgrades, but I fail to find any one item that will reap “tremendous” benefits or savings. This common rhetoric always alludes to some future upgrade that if implemented will revolutionize ATC. Not that simple.

    I would agree that budgets, procurement rules, and politics are a burden. Shall we cut loose a system with no budget or rules? I’ll have to read the hardcopy of the whole report to see if they really address some of the details.

  2. DC says

    This is a terrible idea. The “advanced” nations listed all charge (a lot) for their services and in doing so have crushed General Aviation there. Why would the country where GA is most successful and active want to emulate these failures?

    • Will says

      I agree DC! I have flown in Australia and it is expensive. Air services Australia charges you for everything. We have the best system in the world for GA and it is still inexpensive compared to the rest.

    • Greg W says

      Why? because G.A. is in the way of the “state” airlines and the Govt. Drones, We can’t have people flying just anywhere they want, whenever they want!
      Work what is left of the political system,contact your Representatives, and get out and fly while we still can!

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