Audit finds 'significant differences' in private air traffic control

Audit finds 'significant differences' in private air traffic control
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A report from the Department of Transportation's Inspector General found "significant differences" between the U.S. air traffic control system and other nation's methods for managing flight movements. 

The report, which was requested by Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Anti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties MORE (R-Pa.), comes as Republicans in the House are pushing to privatize large portions of the nation's air traffic control system.  

Shuster, who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has called for the creation of a new nongovernmental agency that would take over air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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The transportation department's watchdog said Wednesday that it examined similar at least semi-private air traffic control systems in four countries and found "significant differences" between the FAA and other nation's airplane navigation sytems "operational and financing structures, as well as their approaches to modernization efforts.

"The four countries we examined—Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France—have separated their air traffic control functions from their safety oversight and regulatory functions," the report said. "While safety and regulatory functions remain government-controlled, each nation has commercialized its air traffic control function into an [Air Navigation Service Provider] using various organizational structures." 

The report contrast the findings about the partially privatized foreign air traffic control systems in other parts of the world to the FAA, which has come under fire for rising costs and delays in the implementation of a new satellite-based flight navigation system known as NextGen. 

The FAA is in the midst of a years-long effort to discard the World War II-era radar technology currently used to manage airplane traffic in favor of a new satellite-based system, known as NextGen. But the conversion has hit turbulence amid missed deadlines and rampant budget cutting in Washington.

The transportation department watchdog said other nations do not have similar problems with their air traffic control systems. 

"The ANSPs are financially self-supporting and finance their operations primarily through user fees, but also have borrowing authority for modernization and infrastructure projects," the report said. "The ANSPs also do not embark on large-modernization efforts or conduct extensive aviation research and development. Rather, they implement new technologies incrementally, using a variety of methods, such as purchasing commercial-off-the-shelf technologies." 

Shuster said Wednesday that the findings buoy his push for a drastic overhaul of the U.S. air traffic control system. 

“If we want to finally modernize our aviation system, reduce delays, and generate more efficiencies in our skies, we can’t continue to just tinker around the edges," Shuster said in a statement. "We have to take action that transforms the way we do things." 

Shuster has signaled that he will include the privatization push in an upcoming funding bill for the FAA, whose federal funding is currently scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.  

He said Wednesday that transportation watchdog's report "shows that other major industrial countries have successfully separated their ATC functions without negative impacts to safety, and these systems are able to make enough money to be self-sustaining. 

"As Congress continues to work on FAA reauthorization and reform legislation, these examples demonstrate that ATC reform is a viable option that can benefit consumers and the aviation community," he concluded.