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From the June 10, 2012 Register-Herald

Consider the Raleigh County Memorial Airport (BKW) as one, big, scientific laboratory, ideally suited for testing the concept of a virtual control tower.

If successful, the experiment could spawn major benefits for smaller airports across the nation, says Dr. David Byers, senior development professional for Quadrex Aviation LLC, based in Melbourne, Fla.

“It’s kind of like an airport graduating from a two-way stop at an intersection to a four-way stop, and you reach a certain point say, at a four-way stop, and if you’ve ever been in that situation, well, who’s next? You may decide, ‘Well, you’re next,’ and somebody has the same opinion and attitude, and the next thing you know, there’s a conflict there.”

. . .

As this occurs more frequently, someone has to make the difference. “In a traffic analogy, that’s when you put up a signal light,” Byers said.

“So the concept at Beckley is to explore the opportunity of actually setting up a facility where they can test the technologies, to see ‘here’s what we think it’s going to do,’ and to put it in a facility where it can be managed and monitored to see if it’s doing what it’s advertised to do and get some feedback from the pilots and essentially be a prototype of other systems that could go up around the country,” Byers said.

And in a more recent story, October 18 2012 in the same newspaper,

A decision whether to build the USA’s first virtual tower at a cost of nearly $3 million is due to come up for a vote this month.

The Raleigh County Memorial Airport (BKW) advisory board was presented with a technical report undertaken by Dr David Byers, a senior development professional for Quadrex Aviation LLC in Melbourne, Florida, following a recent research project.

Byers report states that traditional control towers are becoming more costly, and many airports are battling to keep up with the rising costs. And despite NextGen efforts, with air traffic down, he said around 250 towers would likely need to participate in a cost-sharing programme or find extra funds to make up shortfalls.

Airport Manager Tom Cochran said he expected the authority to decide on the proposal at its October meeting.

Republican congressman Nick Rahall, a senior member of the US House Transportation and Infrastructure, pledged that he and Senator Jay Rockefeller, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, would try and find federal funding for the virtual tower. “It makes a great deal of sense,” Rahall said of Byers’ proposal.


A few ruminations:

  • Ordinarily a no-name LLC in Florida consisting of a Ph.D who was not a former Administration bigwig isn’t much of a presence. But Florida suggests Rep. Mica, and the West Virginia congressional delegation is very adept at bringing funding for pilot projects home to their state.
  • The factoid that jumped out was the “250 towers”. What 250 towers are they talking about? Is it the 260 FAA towers or the 240 Contract Towers? Quadrex’ previous expertise is with contract towers.
  • Interestingly, the June 26, 2012 Reason Foundation newsletter #94 describes two US communities considering a remote tower, Beckley WV and Pikesville, KY, and they’re both using Florida’s Dr. Byers and Quadrex to help define their solutions.

From Forbes: Next-Gen Air Traffic Control Vulnerable To Hackers Spoofing Planes Out Of Thin Air

By 2020, a new system known as Automated Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast or ADS-B will be required as the primary mode of aircraft tracking and control for commercial aircraft in the U.S.–earlier in other countries such as Australia. And both researchers say that ADS-B lacks both the encryption necessary to keep those communications private and the authentication necessary to prevent spoofed communications from mixing with real ones, potentially allowing hackers to fabricate messages and even entire aircraft with radio tools that are cheaper and more accessible than ever before.

“Anyone can technically transmit these messages,” says Andrei Costin, a Ph.D. candidate at the French security institute Eurecom who plans to give a talk called “Ghosts In The Air (Traffic)” at Black Hat. “It’s practically possible for a medium-technical savvy person to mount an attack and impersonate a plane that’s not there.”

ADS-B promises to make air traffic control easier, cheaper and in many ways safer by allowing planes to transmit their locations by radio frequency instead of depending on towers to use radar to track and coordinate them. But without encryption or authentication, ADS-B both exposes flyers to more potential tracking and fails to provide a trusted authority for planes’ location to the same degree as radar, says Costin.

Anyone with a radio tuned to the system’s 1090 megaherz frequency can listen in and track planes. That’s a notion that may disturb some privacy-conscious flyers, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon—sites and apps like FlightAware and PlaneTracker already make that data available from the FAA’s databases.

More troubling is the ability to fabricate fake signals that are indistinguishable from real ones. Using a software-defined radio, a PC-based receiver and transmitter that’s far more versatile than the average consumer radio, anyone from a prankster to a determined attacker could create a message alerting a tower or a plane to an oncoming jet that doesn’t exist.

“This is the most important problem,” says Costin. “You can put out a method that looks valid in the ether, and they can’t verify whether it’s real or malicious.”

But the trick could be scaled up to hundreds or thousands of fake signals, much like a denial-of-service attack that uses thousands of computers to choke a website with a flood of fraudulent requests for information, Costin says.

Perhaps the most comforting part of the FAA’s response was its assurance of ”redundancies to ensure safe operations.” The agency says it plans to maintain half its current network of radar systems “as a backup to ADS-B in the unlikely event it is needed.”

A few links of possible interest:

Fear of Drone GPS Hacking Raised by Congress, including:

“Hacking a UAV by GPS spoofing is but one expression of a larger problem: insecure civil GPS technology has over the last two decades been absorbed deeply into critical systems within our national infrastructure,” Humphries told the subcommittee in his testimony. “Besides UAVs, civil GPS spoofing also presents a danger to manned aircraft, maritime craft, communications systems, banking and finance institutions, and the national power grid.”

While the skills and equipment required to spoof GPS are not currently available to “the average person on the street, or even the average Anonymous hacker,” Humphreys said, software-defined radio technology and “the availability of GPS signal simulators” are starting to put the capability within reach of “ordinary malefactors.”

GPS Jammers and Spoofers threaten infrastructure, including

During the GNSS Vulnerability 2012 event at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory on Wednesday, experts discussed the threat posed by a growing number of GPS jamming and spoofing devices. The increasing popularity of the jammers is troubling, according to conference organizer Bob Cockshott, because even low-power GPS jammers pose a significant threat to cell phone systems, parts of the electrical grid, and the safety of drivers.

Since cell phone towers and some electrical grid systems use GPS signals for time-keeping, GPS jamming can throw them off and cause outages. “We’re seeing a large number of low power devices which plug into power sockets in a car,” Cockshott told Ars. “These devices take out the GPS tracker in the vehicle, but they also create a ‘bubble’ of interference, sometimes out to up to 100 yards. They’re illegal, so their quality control is generally not good.”

There has also been an emerging threat from more powerful GPS “spoofing” systems, according to Cockshott, who is also the director of Position, Navigation and Timing technology for the UK’s ICT Knowledge Transfer Network. GPS spoofing attacks can provide both inaccurate location and time information, potentially creating much larger problems than a dropped call. “There have been incidents where trucks carrying high value goods have been hijacked,” he said, “where GPS and cell phones have been blocked.”

While such incidents have been rare, Cockshott said, these more high-powered jamming systems cause the greatest concern. The equipment on the systems have power equivalent to that aboard GPS satellites, he said, “but they’re not 10,000 miles away—they’re a mile away.” Use of these sorts of attacks by criminals or terrorists, especially in bad weather, could lead to the grounding of ships in constrained channels like the Strait of Dover, or cause problems with GPS-based air traffic control.

Saving the best for last, must be seen to be believed: JammerAll.com GPS Jammers, with Fedex Delivery of GPS Jammers, with a selection of 48 models prices from $46.69 and up.

Great December 2011 article from The Atlantic, Tech Has Saved the Postal Service for 200 Years — Today, It Won’t.

The American post office has been in place for 200 years of continual growth and change. Look at the various evolutions – horse and carriage, railroad, exploding suburbs and road systems, universal delivery six days a week, and competition from the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, UPS/Fedex, fax machines, email, and Skype.

For 200 years, the Post Office has succeeded by adapting new technology to the task at hand, and paid for that new technology by spreading the investment costs across a continually growing volume of mail traffic.

Today’s mail service, while much maligned, is a marvel; unlimited access, universal delivery service, and continual technological improvement. People could pop into an open post office and ask for any service they wanted, on the spot, no corporate account necessary; the package would be delivered to absolutely any address in the United States.

This marvel of continually improving technology was paid for by continually increasing volumes – until the volume peaked in 2006, and it’s been decreasing ever since.

This is very bad news for the USPS. Their basic economic model is predicated on increasing volume. Maintaining unlimited access and universal delivery in the face of decreasing volume is fiscally unsustainable and will not permit any new technological investments.

Decreasing volume is the primary challenge to the American postal service today. Technology will not help it to continue operations while maintaining unlimited access and universal delivery.


Of course, that’s the Post Office. What does that have to do with aviation, except of course that the economics of American aviation really came out of the post office?

Today we see this article from Reuters, Flights by U.S. airlines hit 10-year low:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airlines in 2011 operated the fewest number of flights since the hijack attacks on New York and Washington depressed air travel and accelerated the industry’s worst-ever financial downturn, government figures on Tuesday showed.

The Transportation Department said major airlines, their chief low-cost competitors and the biggest regional carriers, recorded 6.08 million departures last year. Takeoffs were not that low since 2002, when they totaled 5.27 million.

The overall number of flights by U.S. airlines have steadily declined since 2008 when the recession dampened travel demand. Most recently, stubbornly high fuel prices have prompted airlines to further cut capacity to reduce costs and maintain higher fares.

Some analysts believe the American bankruptcy is preparation for more consolidation and flight reduction.

If the post office cannot invest in new technology and maintain unlimited access and universal service in the face of decreasing volume, how can aviation?

We endure long pauses between posts because we have discussed what we could speak of, and we have not seen much that is new. And so, a radio check and a ride report.

Airline Pilots are not effective FAA ExecutivesHiring airline people (Russ Chew, Hank Krakowski, Randy Bobbitt) to run an ANSP is like hiring hostesses to run a restaurant, or a photo developer to run a drug store; they have an informed view of some parts of it, but they suffer from deeply ingrained misconceptions about the high value, essential activities (kitchen, pharmacy, ATC). Unfortunately, The Public tends to over-estimate the expertise of airline pilots and believes they make excellent FAA executives. The results are predictable and consistent.

Russ broke the old system, left a dysfunctional kludge org-chart as his legacy, and went to JetBlue. Hank left for ambiguous reasons; it might have been the Midnights, or it might have been his signing off on ERAM as a successfully delivered system on 3/29/11. Randy is a short-sell, although in a truly Just Culture he wouldn’t have anything to fear.   (update 12/7: Mr. Babbitt DUI’d Sat, flew N2 as crew on Monday, and resigned Tuesday.)

In their place, they’ve put the Lawyer and the Next-Gen Bureaucrat in charge as placeholders. Congressional confirmation of any external replacements is unlikely.


faa nextgen atc implementation plan
Before they left, Russ, Hank, and Randy all swore to Congress that NextGen/ERAM is the key to the future, and that the current system and the “legacy people” are part of the problem. Hank accepted ERAM as a successful delivery (although FAA later attempted to suspend it, in a for-it-then-against-it fiasco that will end up in court).

nextgen benefits 2018 delay fuel co2

 

All the FAA/airline people, all the credible experts, promised The Public that all future problems – budget, labor, delays, noise, fuel, and possibly halitosis – would be resolved by NextGen.

Fortunes and futures are invested in making all the magic happen. NextGen/ERAM has promised everything to everybody, and now everybody is a stakeholder. Sure we can do that! It works in Alaska! It works in the Gulf! It works at 3am! Lockheed Martin is very happy in a situation where the government is responsible for any cost overruns in the continually creeping scope of NextGen.

The Lawyer and the NextGen Bureaucrat, two non-aviators, aren’t going to reverse the over-selling of NextGen by their jet-jockey predecessors. Airline CEOs correctly say that there is no cost/benefit justification for a NextGen equipage mandate, and they’re unwilling to pour money into the NextGen black hole. Congress is playing budget brinksmanship again. Nobody expects bold progress in a Presidential election year.

Politically, NextGen/ERAM is too big too fail. Operationally and financially they need to pull the plug, because they over-promised and didn’t build in any tolerance for initial design work.

ERAM is the dead elephant in the room, and it’s about to go the way of the Advanced Automation System (AAS) When ERAM (as originally described) fails, the broad promise of NextGen (as originally described) becomes untenable.

We’re decapitated, our budget runs out in a month, and the NextGen-ERAM debacle is looming large. How will the headless bureaucracy handle a doomed program that must succeed? The same way as always; make lemonade by updating the deliverables and timeline. Rebaselining deja vu.

A lot of the NextGen functionality – which is already being used in tactical, one-off applications – will continue to be locally implemented. But the burnt-ground, bottom up, holistic redesign of a completely new integrated system architecture is no longer possible.

Pragmatically, they’re probably going to reduce rightsize ERAM’s scope. They’ll export some ERAM functions that do work into the Host emulators we’re relying on today, and rename the tweaked emulators NextHost or Nöst maybe. They’ll declare Success With Honor with NextGen-Lite 1.0 Say it together: Safety was never compromised.

As for the rest of the baggage, they’ll reposition all of the dodgy promises as future upgrades (NextGen 2.0, 3.0, NG4.0) scheduled for subsequent administrations while the visionaries scramble away from the wreckage with a boatload of billable hours. The Flight Plan will be revised and end up looking like the JetBlue flight schedule on a snowy day.

That’s not all bad. The new mishmash will be retro-compatible where NextGen/ERAM wasn’t. Pilots can still use Mode C and Mode S transponders, ILSs, and VORs. There may be ADS-B-Out requirements at OEP airports, but investments will only be mandated where that’s operationally justified.

There will be a terrible budgetary aftermath. In order to cost-justify NextGen, they’ve cooked the books on all the future budget plans. The current plans are based on invalid assumptions — they won’t need as many controllers, VOR’s and ILS’s; they won’t need as many terminal facilities or field technicians, etc. There’s a huge disconnect between their downstream budget plans, their political agenda, and their operational commitments, and budgets matter. Hello, More With Less 5.0.

There will be a political scandal, which is not good for the future of a profession that works for politicians and taxpayers. The ERAM debacle will need a fall guy, and it’s going to be ATSAWKI – the air traffic system as we know it.

In retrospect, the downfall of the various NextGen rentiers is that they allowed their piece of the pie to depend on an ERAM project that has been previously proven (AAS) to be beyond the capabilities of our design process. The overall failure is due to our hubris in supporting a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary process.

None of this is intended as “the sky is falling”, but rather as an opportunity to paraphrase this wisdom: “The Profession’s best interest is in protecting The Public’s best interest”.


faa nextgen all things to all people : santa one
Click Here
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You couldn’t make this up.

JetBlue nextgen ATC chuck schumer JFK

In the news this week, JetBlue CEO calls for air traffic control reform:

(Reuters) – The chief executive of JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) said the United States needs to reform its air traffic control systems to prevent waste and improve mobility in the skies.

“Improving the next-generation air traffic control system, this isn’t optional,” CEO David Barger told Boston College’s Chief Executives’ Club on Thursday. “This is imperative.”

JetBlue Schumer's Nextgen ATC Hypocrisy


Let’s look at JetBlue, NextGen, and the senior Senator from New York.


Chuck Schumer is a very smart person. Scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT, attended Harvard College and continued to Harvard Law School. Served in the NY State Assembly from 1975 to 1980, in the US House from 1981 to 1999, and in the US Senate from 1998 – present.

Schumer is an excellent, hard-working politician who has never lost an election. Just in the Senate, he defeated three-term Republican incumbent Al D’Amato by a margin of 55%–44%; in 2004 he was re-elected 71%–24%, and in 2010 by 66%–33%. He delivers excellent constituent services, is particularly focused on any company that might move jobs out of New York, and is a champion for his constituents. Chuck Schumer is a mensch.

Chuck Schumer worked his way up from the State Assembly to the US House, and then he wanted to advance to the Senate. His problem was that he was a New York City name but not an Upstate guy. They’re different worlds. Upstaters don’t like Downstate/City politicians because the City behaves as if Upstaters don’t exist (except for their tax money, which subsidizes NYC). And what City people think about Upstaters, fughedaboutit. To get to the Senate, Chuck Schumer needed upstate support and needed to show that he could deliver.


JetBlue was a new airline started by Southwest expats. They used JFK’s runways, which were previously an evening-International operation, for a low-cost domestic carrier base. The situation was very similar to People’s Express at Newark’s North Terminal – the existing flow wasn’t designed for the new traffic, the infrastructure was overwhelmed, the crowds in the terminal were exceeded only by the gridlock on the ramp, etc. JetBlue needed help.

Schumer promised Upstate voters that he would bring airline service to Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Syracuse. Schumer talked to JetBlue, and the new service was announced. JetBlue doesn’t have any government problems. Schumer and JetBlue have continued in a symbiotic dance, helping each other whenever possible, ever since. Bada bing, bada boom.

Back in 1999, JetBlue needed landing slots at Kennedy, and Schumer delivered. Here’s the press release from Schumer’s website:

September 16, 1999
SCHUMER, JETBLUE ANNOUNCE JFK SLOTS FOR NEW AIRLINE
Start-Up Airline Will Serve Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse

US Senator Charles E. Schumer, US DOT Secretary Rodney Slater, JetBlue Airways CEO David Neeleman, JetBlue President David Barger and Members of Congress today announced that JetBlue will receive 75 precious takeoff and landing slots at John F. Kennedy Airport.

I stand here like a proud uncle to announce the triumph of an airline,” said Schumer. “Today, Secretary Slater will formally approve JetBlue’s request for take-off and landing slots at JFK Airport. The era of sky-high airfares is about to end.”     JetBlue version.

Whenever JetBlue announces new service in Upstate New York, Chuck Schumer is there for the announcement. JetBlue lets Schumer make some of their announcements. You might Google “JetBlue Schumer”.

2004: US Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that JetBlue Airways will add two new flights to its daily service to Buffalo from John F. Kennedy airport starting May 4. Schumer got JetBlue to begin serving Buffalo in 2000 in exchange for securing landing rights at John F. Kennedy airport for the low cost airline. JetBlue currently has five daily flights from JFK to Buffalo. … Schumer has been working with JetBlue to improve air service in New York State since he was first elected to the Senate. In exchange for securing landing and takeoff rights for JetBlue at JFK, Schumer got the airline to commit to serving Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo within its first 18 months of its startup.

2007: “Today’s news is a grand slam for JetBlue and Rochester and Buffalo area residents,” said Senator Charles Schumer. “JetBlue has stepped up to the plate to make efficient and affordable air service a reality for travelers across the Finger Lakes and Western New York regions, and local residents have once again proven a basic law of economics: when you offer top-shelf service at an affordable price, people scoop it up.”

jetblue new york schumer nextgen ATCIt’s a bit of Kabuki theater, a staged setpiece. Right now Schumer is “urging” local politicians to give JetBlue incentives so they stay in NY, and he “hopes” that upstate airports (MacArthur Islip, Stewart) give JetBlue the incentives the airline needs to survive.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with this. Schumer helps the airline (that employs constituents, carries constituents, and contributes to the economy) and the airline works the process for their self-interest. That’s all to the good. JetBlue is a profitable New York airline in a difficult economy. It’s certainly good in the “New York frame-of-mind”.


NextGen is a lot of very cool things, some of which are very expensive. A lot of people’s dreams are tied to NextGen. Airline CEOs do not want to pay to put new gizmos in their dashboards. USAirways CEO has said that he will not pay to put NextGen in their airplanes because the benefits don’t justify the costs. Southwest was an early adopter of NextGen and they’re miffed because they haven’t seen a game-changing payoff.

The NextGen industry, the military-industrial complex, want$ to establish NextGen avionics as the required US airline standard platform. JetBlue wants in on the technology but doesn’t want to pay for it. Solution: Chuck Schumer gets NextGen for JetBlue, for free.

Washington Post, Feb 3 2011: FAA to equip some JetBlue planes with NextGen GPS technology:

The federal government will pay $4.2 million to install new navigation systems on 35 JetBlue airplanes, hoping their enhanced performance will entice the airline industry to invest up to $20 billion in the new technology over the next decade.

The investment in new technology will permit JetBlue to use these 35 airplanes to fly new routes between New York and Boston to the Caribbean.

There’s a lot of good things in this, but there might be one wrinkle. Any other airline would have to pay for these new capabilities. But JetBlue, with Chuck Schumer? They got you to pay for it, Jane Q. Public, thank you very much.

And for JetBlue CEO David Barger to assert, “Improving the next-generation air traffic control system, this isn’t optional. This is imperative.” after getting his gizmos for free, paid for by the taxpayers, that’s just a little bit too much.

Peter Orszag media cash whore for NextGen and privatization

In Business Week aka Bloomberg, Peter Orszag presents his vision of the most effective approach to improving the nation’s air traffic control system. In general, when we read a person’s opinion, we wonder — Who is this? What is their expertise? Who profits?

Orszag’s text follows; emphasis added, comments in superscript.


Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) — Without a doubtwarning!, GPS, the satellite-based navigation system that has revolutionized travel by car and truck, even by foot, could do the same for commercial air traffic.GPS is already in use in today’s system

President Barack Obama has proposed stepping up government investment in NextGen, a GPS-based ATC technology that will allow planes to fly closer to one another than they can with human and radar help alone and to follow more direct flight paths. The system is expected to reduce delaysrunways reduce delays and decrease flight times by more than a thirdwild exaggeration, saving billions of dollarsunwarranted for airline companies and for the traveling publicdoubtful. This would mean consuming less jet fuel, so carbon emissions would be lowertrue, too. The change would even improve safety by making us less dependent on sleep-deprived controllersad-hominen slur.

So it’s a step in the right directionassumption. Unfortunately, though, the NextGen system is being rolled out in stagesseems prudent, and it isn’t expected to be fully operational in U.S. airports and aircraft until 2020. Even that slow timetable assumes that the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency overseeing the project, receives the necessary funding from Congress and can meet all its deadlines.

Nonprofit Solution
We shouldn’t have to wait so long. There is a way to move faster, one that would probably also help the NextGen system work more smoothly once it’s in placebaseless: Take responsibility for implementing the new GPS system, and for air-traffic control altogether, away from the FAA and assign it to a private, nonprofit organizationreveal of intent. (Disclosure: Aerospace clients I work with at Citigroup Inc. would benefit from faster implementation of NextGen.)$urprise

Almoststretch word two dozen other countriessmaller than NYC metro have already assigned ATC to either government-owned corporations, nonprofits or other organizations outside of government, and the results have generallyweasel word been encouragingvague euphemism. As the U.S. GAO concluded in a 2005 review, these operators have maintained or even improved air safety, while they have lowered costsfalse and boosted efficiency by investing in new technology.disingenuous

NAV Canada, for example, is a nonprofit corporation that provides air-traffic control, along with weather reports, flight information and other services. Its revenue comes from fees charged to airlines for this work. Its safety record is excellent. And, compared with the FAAno comparison presented, it tendsweasel word to be more responsivevague to innovation and better able to make improvements in technology, investing in the needs of its user airlines.

For example, NAV Canada has developed a touch-screen flight data and display system, called NAVCANstrips, which automates controllers’ work flow and reduces their need to communicate with one another verbally. It integrates tower flight data with information about departures, arrivals and planes en route, as well as radar, weather and the status of runways. This system was developed by controllers themselves, and NAV Canada has sold it to the U.K., Denmark and other countries. (It’s also being used at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.)

The public air-traffic-control system we have in the U.S. began as part of the federal government’s role in air mail, starting in the early 20th century, through the U.S. Postal Service (an agency that should also be moved out of the government, but that’s a different topic)secondary agenda. By the 1920s, the government was licensing pilots and issuing certificates of airworthiness for planes.

FAA History
In the late 1930s, Congress explicitly assigned the Civil Aeronautics Authority (the predecessor of the FAA) the job of managing air-traffic control. That was more than 70 years ago, even before the use of radar in civil aviationan FAA initiative. Today, air traffic increasingly relies on rapidly evolving technology, and the FAA has, for decades, struggled to keep up.

As late as the 1970s, U.S. air-traffic control was still using light beacons to guide planes at nightout of context. As a 2006 review of the agency, by Clinton Oster of Indiana Universitywho?, concluded, “Concerns about being able to upgrade and expand the air traffic control system to accommodate anticipated growth in air traffic have been almost continual since the early 1960s.”

In 2004, an expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences likewise concluded that the FAA lacks the technical expertise needed to build and manage complex air-traffic systems.

An important reason the FAA has had trouble keeping up with technology is that its funding has been unstable and uncertain. Its money comes from two sources, an annual appropriation from Congress, and revenue from the passenger tax. The amount that comes from Congress is always at risk of being reducedbogeyman, especially when money is tight. And the passenger tax, for its part, is misaligned with the costs of air-traffic control.

The tax is assessed on airlines’ total receipts from ticket sales, but what determines the amount of funding needed is not the number of passengers or the price paid per passenger (which combined determine ticket revenue), but rather the number of flights coming in and out of airports. And that is not directly reflected in the passenger count because it varies depending on size of aircraft and how full the flights are.fails to explore options: congestion pricing?

User Pays
A betterassumption approach would be for users to pay the whole bill, and for the fees to be imposed based on the number of takeoffs and landings. This would ensure that those who use the air- traffic-control system pay for it, and it would keep funding outside the political processand no accountability.

To be sure, there are downsides to a user-based revenue model. For example, NAV Canada experienced financial difficulties after the Sept. 11 attacks, when travel declined, diminishing its revenue base. In response, the agency raised user rates, froze employee wages and took other steps to improve its financial health. By 2005, NAV Canada’s finances had stabilized.Back in the red in 2008

Perhaps the biggest objection to shifting air-traffic responsibilities to a nonprofit comes from the National Air Traffic Controllers Associationthe experts. It asserts that private management would create tension between safety and profitsNATCA didn’t say that — even though the Canadian agency has an outstanding safety record. Other union concerns could be at least partially mitigated by including protections for controllers in the legislation that would move air-traffic control out of the FAArestatement of key agenda. For example, in NAV Canada, the unions nominate two members of the board of directors. The Canadian agency also extended pre-existing job security provisions and reached a new collective- bargaining agreement with employees.NATCA would probably say the primary objection is moving an inherently governmental safety and transport function into a cost-sensitive, non-accountable business model. But Orszag didn’t ask NATCA, he just put words into their mouth

This isn’t to say all government functions would be best turned over to private operators. There are some jobs that, over the past two decades, the U.S. has unwisely moved out of government control.attempted ethos In the 1990s, for example, despite some strong objections within the Clinton administration, the government turned over to private operators the U.S. Enrichment Corp., which has the job of enriching nuclear fuel.straw man

The regulation of airline safety and operationcall for re-regulation? should remain the business of the government, as it would pose too many conflicts of interest to have the airlines regulate themselves. But as other countries have shown, air-traffic control can be split off into a nongovernmental entity even while the government retains regulatory oversight of air travel. NAV Canada, especially, provides a model the U.S. would be smart to follow.

(Peter Orszag is vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup Inc. and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration. The opinions expressed are his own.)
# # #


Having led the Obama Administration down the rabbit hole on health care reform, and leaving in place a set of onerous trigger mechanisms to ensure implementation of his program, Peter Orszag has now moved into the financial industry and presents opinions on behalf of his clients in a field in which he is not qualified to evaluate the various issues. But, hey, he’s Peter Orszag!

We are surprised that Orszag is once again pitching a Canadian model.

We would point out that after its establishment in 1996, NavCanada was in dire financial trouble from 2001-2005, and again from 2008 through 2011. In fact, their financial model does not ensure safety or continuous operations during economic downturns.


Do you want government air traffic controllers watching your family, or do you prefer Citibank, Lockheed Martin and their media whores?

It must be significant when even Democrats behave this way.


related links: NATCA, The Hill.