Air Transport World

The National Aviation Authority: time to take FAA out of ATC? (Federal Aviation Administration; air traffic control)

The National Aviation Authority: Time to take FAA out of ATC?

In recent years the number of airline delays in the U.S. has soared precipitously. No aviation group has expressed more concern about such delays than the Air Transport Association (ATA). Last year, the nation averaged 1,132 delays each day, a 22% increase over the number logged in 1985. On a typical day, says an ATA official, airlines and passengers now endure an average of 2,500 hours of delays, equivalent to grounding a 250-plane airline for the entire day.

Charging that delays cost airlines, passengers and shippers $2 billion in 1986, ATA absolves its members of blame for delays. Even though the carriers are now coordinating schedules at several busy hubs at the urging of the Department of Transportation (DOT), ATA dismisses the suggestion that airline scheduling in any way contributes to the delay problem.

"The freedom to schedule is one of the basic tenets of deregulation,' says ATA President William Bolger. "The marketplace won't allow airlines to schedule too many flights.' Traditionally ATA has placed most of the blame for poor schedule reliability at the hangar door of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the DOT.

Fixing ATC system

Now ATA officials say they know a better way to run the nation's air traffic control (ATC) system. Under a plan first formulated in 1985, the Air Transport Association advocates the creation of the National Aviation Authority (NAA), an independent federal corporation. Although FAA would retain its present safety and regulatory functions, the ATA proposal calls for FAA to surrender the management of the ATC system and the funding of airport grants to the NAA.

Bolger concedes the National Aviation Authority would offer no panacea for the myriad problems confronting U.S. aviation. Yet ATA insists the present system is broken and needs fixing. According to Bolger a federal ATC corporation would do a better job than FAA of reducing delays, spurring airport development and providing the continuity of planning so glaringly absent in today's FAA.

Developing a viable alternative to the present ATC system is only one hurdle confronting ATA. Selling the proposal to a skeptical aviation community and to Congress is another. On January 21 the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) hosted a public symposium in Crystal City, Va. At that forum former FAA Administrator Najeeb Halaby moderated a discussion of the National Aviation Authority by a ten-member panel representing various aviation interest groups. Besides the ATA proposal, speakers also addressed alternative methods by which FAA and the ATC system could be made more responsive to user needs.

As conceived by ATA, the National Aviation Authority would be chartered by Congress and operated similar to other federal corporations such as Amtrak, Conrail, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Postal Service. As part of the corporation's enabling legislation, the Airport & Airways Trust Fund would be removed from the unified federal budget. Nearly all of the $4.7 billion annual budget of the NAA would come from existing user fees, primarily the 8% tax on domestic airline tickets. Unlike FAA, the federal ATC corporation would be granted private sector borrowing power. …

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