We live in a consumer society and we make economic decisions everyday. You can buy the ice cream, the latte, or put $3 in the college fund, but you can only choose one – and they’re all economic decisions. Back when the internet bubble was hot, there was a lot of discussion about Clicks versus Bricks, about which things to do online and which things to do in real life.
There are some things that it’s OK to buy online (clicks).
There are some things you should only buy in person, in the store (the bricks).
Clicks are virtual transactions. Bricks are transactions in a store with a physical presence; you’ve got to be there.
It’s okay to buy ballgame or show tickets online. People buy books and computers and music online. You might buy canned good and cereals from an online grocer.
When you buy gloves, you go to the store to buy them. Shoes are something you buy in person. Vegetables and fruit are something you buy in person.
Let’s see if we can categorize these two non-intersecting sets.
Football tickets, show tickets, books, computers, canned goods, cereals: the things we buy online are commodities. A commodity is some good for which there is demand, which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.
Wristwatches, gloves, shoes, vegetables, fruit: the things we buy in person are an individualized, customized, situational product. They’re not commodities; they’re qualitatively differentiated. These buying decisions are complex interactions among available options.
The people that want to relocate your approach control, and the people who want to replace your tower with a virtual tower, believe that air traffic control service is a commodity. Route the comm lines using VoIP, route the radar sensor data over T-1 lines, and you can get it done from anywhere – and if you dumb it down enough, you can get it done by anybody.
And here’s a truth- part of the time, in normal operations during daylight hours and nice weather, you might get by with remote control ATC. A lot of low volume, normal ops / daytime / nice weather operations could probably get done that way.
However, the nonstandard operations, the night-time flying in hazardous weather, or the airplane with a problem – that’s not a commodity transaction, that’s an individualized, customized, situational product. You want a local craftsman who’s an expert in the area doing that work.
I think that everybody who believes that offsite Air Traffic Control is a great idea should buy their spouse or significant other some dress shoes and some nice gloves online, or else make the purchase over the phone to an offshore catalog phone center. Their spouse should have to wear them for a year. Most people wouldn’t take the risk.
If you wouldn’t buy shoes or gloves that way, why are we considering doing air traffic control that way?