Last updated: 04:09 PM ET, Mon February 08 2016

Why Delta Is Against Privatizing Air Traffic Control in the US

Airlines & Airports | Delta Air Lines | Josh Lew | February 08, 2016

Why Delta Is Against Privatizing Air Traffic Control in the US

Photo courtesy of Delta Airlines

American Airlines and United are part of the group pushing to privatize the air traffic control system in the United States. The idea seems to be gaining steam, with proponents of the change pointing to similar arrangements in Canada and Europe. A decision could be made as early as March 31, when current legislation governing the FAA will be renewed or changed. 

One legacy carrier is noticeably absent from the pro-privatization camp. Delta Airlines has actually been a vocal critic of the idea. Last year, it left the group called Airlines for America, which is lobbying for a private air traffic control system with the help of both American Airlines and United. 

Delta recently released data that showed why it is opposed to such a move. 

Privatization could lead to higher costs

Delta commissioned a study that looked into the privatization of air traffic control services in Canada and Great Britain. The findings suggest that privatizing ATC leads to much higher fees. After six years of private oversight, ATC-related costs had risen 59 percent in Canada. Fees were up by 30 percent after the same period in the UK. According to Delta’s study, the cost of running the private services in these two countries is growing faster than it is for the public ATC system currently used in the U.S.  

Privatization does nothing to address the real issues

Delta Vice President of Flight Operations, Steve Dickson, has been a vocal critic of the privatization plan. He has penned op-eds that point out several different flaws in the plan and suggests that changing who runs the ATC system would do nothing to address problems that need to be addressed. If anything, it would disrupt any momentum towards development and lengthen the time needed for upgrades to so-called NextGen systems. 

READ MORE: Debate Rages Over Privatized Air Traffic Control

“Separating the ATO [Air Traffic Organization] from the rest of the FAA does not address the efficiency or performance of the air traffic control system. Nor can it change certain structural barriers in the system, such as the geographic proximity of airports in the congested northeast corridor of the United States, or the fact that no new airports are being built in that area. It would result in costly organizational disruptions, silos and new barriers to implementing operational improvements that are already proving to be successful.” 

So Delta is, basically, of the opinion that privatizing ATC will lead to extra costs, but not necessarily better performance. If anything, it will slow down whatever developments are currently in the works.  

The FAA still needs to change the way it works

On the other side of the debate are reports from the Department of Transportation’s inspector general, who criticized the bureaucratic FAA for being resistant to change and not being fast enough to embrace improvements when they become available. 

In its reports and op-eds, Delta did not dispute this fact. However, it seems to think that any legislation should not be focused on changing the system completely, but forcing the FAA into action so that it has to upgrade the current setup. 

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