Center for American Progress

A High Bar to Clear for Privatizing Air Traffic Control

A High Bar to Clear for Privatizing Air Traffic Control

As Congress considers reauthorizing Federal Aviation Administration operations, it should consider the successes of the current system as well as the uncertain consequences of privatization.

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idea_bulbThe United States has the largest and safest aviation system in the world. On any given day, the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, must successfully handle 65,000 flights. Each year, commercial airlines carry approximately 740 million passengers—more than 2 million people per day. The backbone of this system is the 14,800 air traffic controllers who, along with 5,000 supervisors and managers, ensure a safe national airspace 24 hours per day. The vast majority of controllers are federal employees, while a small percentage are contract workers paid through the FAA budget.

In September, the current authorization for FAA programs, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, will expire. Perhaps the largest and most complicated question before Congress is whether to privatize air traffic control operations, system maintenance, and procurement responsibilities for the air traffic control modernization program known as NextGen.

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