A plan to overhaul how the country tracks commercial airline flights is hitting some turbulence at South Dakota airports. The plan in Congress, which has the backing of the Trump Administration, would privatize the nation’s air traffic control system. Yet, not everyone in the industry is on board with the plan.
Many airline observers say the nation’s air traffic control system has been stuck in a technologically-challenged holding pattern for decades
“So, we’ve got to be able to achieve more efficiencies more quickly, we’re still using World War II era radar-based technology,” former Transportation Secretary James Burnley said
Former Reagan Administration Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley is in Sioux Falls promoting the idea of a private, non-profit corporation taking over air traffic control responsibilities. He says a privately run group would be far more nimble than the federal government to modernize the system.
“I think we’ll get better outcomes over time if we separate the the regulators like we’ve done for other modes of transportation from the operators of the system,” Burnley said.
Yet some South Dakota airports are wary of a private corporation taking over the controls.
“Is the air traffic system broken? Right now, it’s not. Is it efficient? No,” Airport Deputy Director Richard King said.
Sioux Falls Regional has not come out with an official position on privatization. But the deputy director says the push toward more efficiencies at air traffic control towers could come at the expense of airports like this one.
“The potential outcome of that is airlines driving for efficiency sake for their operations, more air traffic control resources to the larger communities which means less services to the smaller communities,” King said.
King says it’s possible a private corporation running air traffic control would be more responsive to the bottom line of airline companies than to the needs of airports and their customers.
Supporters of privatizing air traffic control point to the success that Canada has had for years. Yet King says air traffic control in the United States is a far larger and more complex system than Canada’s.
U.S. Senator John Thune, who’s the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee emailed KELOLAND News this statement regarding the privatization of air traffic control:
“Passing a significant reform of air traffic control will require bipartisan support as well as a consensus among the aviation community on a way forward. This is an important and ongoing conversation because the Federal Aviation Administration’s effort to improve air travel safety and efficiency by modernizing air traffic control has been hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and poor planning. While we’ve spent billions of dollars on upgrades, independent assessments have warned that the promised benefits for the flying public may never be realized if we continue under the status quo.”