Re­al­ity of pri­va­tized air traf­fic con­trol

Re: “A new way to con­trol air­line traf­fic,” Dec. 27 guest com­men­tary.

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - Den­ver-area busi­ness­man and res­i­dent Iver Retrum was the found­ing chair of the Colorado Avi­a­tion Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion, as well as a found­ing Board mem­ber-trea­surer of the Colorado Gen­eral Avi­a­tion Al­liance. By Iver Retrum My Turn

This guest com­men­tary on the na­tion’s air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem un­for­tu­nately painted a rosy pic­ture of pri­va­ti­za­tion based on for­eign mod­els that would be far from re­al­ity for small busi­nesses, con­sumers and com­mu­ni­ties across our state.

First, as some­one who used to work with Canada’s pri­va­tized air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem, I can tell you that it and other pri­va­tized sys­tems around the world are not the utopian mod­els that pro­po­nents have made them out to be.

In Canada, the sys­tem stum­bled fi­nan­cially and re­quired sup­port to re­main sol­vent. The UK’s pri­va­tized sys­tem needed un­ex­pected fi­nan­cial bailouts from govern­ment and tax­pay­ers, be­cause its sup­pos­edly sta­ble fund­ing streams proved volatile.

A re­port pub­lished this year by the UK’s own Air­ports Com­mis­sion states that the sys­tem is “show­ing un­am­bigu­ous signs of strain,” pro­duc­ing “more de­lays, higher fares and re­duced con­nec­tiv­ity” at Lon­don’s air­ports.

As for Amer­ica’s avi­a­tion sys­tem? The U.S. man­ages nearly 20 per­cent of the world’s airspace, in­clud­ing some of the most com­plex, densely trav­eled airspace any­where. This is four times the num­ber of flights han­dled in Canada, and more than 10 times the num­ber han­dled in the UK.

Den­ver’s busiest air­port, Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port, han­dles more than 25 per­cent more air­craft than are han­dled by Canada’s busiest air­port, Toronto, and 19 per­cent more air­craft than the UK’s busiest air­port, Heathrow.

More­over, our sys­tem serves the pub­lic ben­e­fit, not the busi­ness ben­e­fits of one avi­a­tion-stake­holder group such as the air­lines. In a sys­tem set up dif­fer­ently from ours, there could be no guar­an­tee that con­nec­tiv­ity to small air­ports, towns and com­mu­ni­ties would be as ro­bust as it is to­day, or that vi­tal pub­lic-ben­e­fit fly­ing would be as avail­able as it is now, or even that air­line cus­tomers’ in­ter­ests would be best served.

As we work to con­tinue mod­ern­iz­ing the U.S. sys­tem, let’s base dis­cus­sions about mod­ern­iza­tion on facts, and on fix­ing what is bro­ken, in­stead of on dis­tract­ing ar­gu­ments about avi­a­tion sys­tems with their own im­per­fect his­to­ries.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­trol tower at Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port, as seen from east of the DIA air­field. Den­ver Post file

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