German Company may control UK Airspace—what that might mean to US ATC and Reauthorization

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The below article poses the interesting notion that the airspace of an English airport could be managed by a German company. That news should be carefully considered by the Aviation policy makers in Washington, particularly Capitol Hill.

One of the big issues which likely will be discussed and/or resolved (once and for all) between now and the end of 2015 is what to do with the US Air Traffic Organization. One alternative which will be considered will be whether the UA Air Traffic Control System should be privatized or corporatized or some other adjustment to the structure. The catalyst for this policy discussion is that no one has figured out how to pay for NextGen and that everyone agrees that some or all of this technology is critical for the future of US aviation.

The key opponent to the idea that the private sector should not (cannot?) manage the National Airspace is NATCA. The union asserts that the work of controllers is inherently governmental in nature and thus cannot be moved to the public sector. In the last few years, it has issued no less than four press releases in staunch opposition to the idea. The last was distributed in 2011.

The contretemps to the NATCA view as well as the Oracle of ATC Privatization is Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole. He articulates a rational basis for this innovative response to the ATC headache and specifically addresses the NATCA positions. He points to multiple private ATC organizations around the world and the success all have delivered.

Those arguments are largely based on financial/managerial dimensions. What is happening in England will reinforce NATCA’s opposition at a minimum. The proponents of Privatization will have to write their draft legislation to specify whether the owner of the private ATO can or cannot negotiate with a foreign (or even domestic) alternative to the existing workforce. Such an option would reduce some of the existing union’s leverage and competition among service providers for such a contract might contribute to the cost efficiency of this ATO company. The OIG has issued a review of the current Contract Tower operators which identifies significant efficiencies.

The labor view of such a transaction would be that it is impossible for anyone to replace the existing work force because the ATC procedures are too complex for anyone to come in and perform without major “hiccups”, i.e. safety problems. If the German company DFS finally is awarded the Gatwick Tower contract and if the transition is without incident, the safety would not continue to be a concern.

As the Reauthorization deadline approaches, it will be most interesting to see if the DFS contract goes forward and how it works. A successful transition will place some interesting chess pieces in the debate about ATO Privatization.

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