To the Editor: John Stossel’s recent article proposing privatization of the air traffic control (ATC) system is misinformed. He states that equipment is too slow because it is old, and government is too slow to implement meaningful change. He is wrong on both points.
As a retired air traffic controller, I have a different viewpoint. Two commercial jets in level flight traveling toward one another will close a one mile gap in four seconds. Standards of separation are based on human reaction times. Pilots flying the planes, and controllers ensuring safety in the skies and on the runways, set the pace. Giving these tasks to computers would cut reaction times, allowing less separation. It would also raise issues of hacking, power failure, and poor programming, to list a few. I don’t think any rational person wants that. Faster equipment makes no meaningful difference as long as pilots and controllers are involved.
The government is not “too” slow; it is deliberately slow. When the lives of 1.73 million passengers per day are at risk, there is no such thing as too careful. New equipment or any changes to the ATC system should undergo an extraordinarily high level of scrutiny and review, and be introduced slowly and methodically. Safety is the entire point of the system.
Stossel claims that government proceeds “hyper-cautiously.” This is false. My own personal experience is that routes and runways are monitored continuously, and changes are dynamic, and in real-time, depending on weather, volume, and a host of other factors.