Article’s look at the Fiscal Cliff and an earlier OIG report raise questions about the efficiency of the Air Traffic Organization

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ARTICLE: FAA budget issue might obscure more weighty air industry factors


The Fiscal Cliff was supposed to create a crisis so unthinkable that it would never happen. Nothing in Washington these days should be surprising and sequestration went into effect throughout the FAA’s air traffic control organization. What was surprising was that a 10% decrease in the FAA’s budget was forecast to impact 30% of the flights controlled by the FAA.

This link to an analysis by Travel Weekly examines some interesting numbers. First, the author says that “the annual FAA budget rose 6.7% between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, to $15.9 billion.” Then, the author looks at the airlines’ employment rolls and points out that there numbers are down by 2.5% in the last year.

An aviation expert, Vaughan Cordle, a partner of Ionosphere Capital, looks at those figures and concludes “It’s a bloated, inefficient system. Clearly, the system isn’t paying for itself.” Cordle is a proponent of privatization of the ATC.

Another review of a segment of the Air Traffic Control system, the contract towers, demonstrated that these non-federal facilities were as safe as the government managed towers and were operated at a lower cost. The report, by the US Department of Transpiration’s Office of Inspector General did not delve into why the private contractors appeared to be so efficient. The point of the IG’s investigation was not intended to draw comparative conclusions; the raw numbers raised questions that need to be examined.

The Travel Weekly assessment and the IG cost numbers are all data points that contribute to a brewing debate. It will be interesting to see if the FAA, the OIG, the GAO or some think tank digs more deeply into where and why are there efficiencies and higher costs in these air traffic facilities. Some of the proponents of Sequestration argued for this drastic fiscal axe because they predicted that the draconian cuts would not cause the government to collapse. The Travel Weekly article and the OIG report, both only first iterations of analysis, are reasons to drill down into the numbers. Maybe NextGen will help the government be more effective or perhaps the thorough analysis will suggest tighter staffing standards.

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