Robert Poole, Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy, is oft quoted here because he is probably the leading independent critic/ thinker on the subject of the FAA’s air traffic control organization, its funding and governance. The above linked paper is another in a series of excellent analysis of problems and definition of solutions. His identification of issues is accurate, and his ideas along with others deserve serious consideration.
As aviation moves towards the 2015 Reauthorization process which Chairman Shuster has promised, Poole’s paper should be reviewed by every aviation policy maker. His list of faults
“· FAA’s self-identity as a safety agency creates an organizational culture that is overly conservative, compared with that of airframe and engine producers, avionics providers, and the rest of aviation, all of which are regulated by FAA.
· FAA has experienced a brain drain of many of its best and brightest engineers, which leads to inadequately specified system requirements and the phenomenon known as “requirements creep,” in which all kinds of wonderful but costly things get added to the project, increasing its cost and complexity.
· Likewise, FAA has less than top-flight program management expertise, making it overly reliant on contractors and leading to cost overruns and schedule slippage.
· FAA has too many overseers—understandable given its problem-filled history but with serious consequences for diverting management attention away from the job of operating and improving the ATC system.
· FAA therefore focuses far more than other ANSPs on pleasing its political overseers rather than its aviation customers.”
is clearly articulated and well documented. Equally importantly, the Reason Foundation/Hudson Institute assessment of what needs to be done to rectify the situation is thorough and comprehensive:
“· To change the overly cautious ATC culture, separate the Air Traffic Organization from FAA, putting FAA safety regulation at arm’s length from operating and modernizing the ATC system. The idea is to foster the kind of innovative thinking and acting that we see in aviation’s private sector, all of which is subject to FAA safety regulation but for which innovation is its stock in trade.
· To bring about efficient and on-time modernization, shift the ATO’s funding from annual appropriations to direct revenue from its customers, which would be a bondable revenue stream well-suited to financing NextGen’s major capital improvements.
· To refocus management attention on serving its aviation customers, change the governance of the ATC system from a plethora of government bodies (multiple congressional committees, OMB, GAO, Inspector General, and Office of the Secretary of Transportation) to a board of directors representing a cross-section of aviation stakeholders.”
Over the past 20 plus years, additional ideas for ATC reform, some offered by Mr. Poole, others developed and proposed by previous Administrations and some suggested by different aviation advocacy groups have been discussed with various levels of support but never with a consensus from which real progress could be made.
Yes, there are real obstacles to transforming aspirations into action but the benefits of real ATC reform are huge. Now is the time for aviation policy makers to try again using Poole’s ideas added to previous and new thoughts to start a new discourse.
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