Congress has an opportunity to bring significant relief to California taxpayers and travelers with a current legislative package that will set the Federal Aviation Administration’s funding levels and policy priorities – known as “reauthorization.”
Rather than continue the business-as usual mismanagement that has plagued the FAA for years, I urge California’s congressional delegation to vote in favor of the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (AIRR Act), which will more efficiently put our tax dollars to work serving the public.
Despite the government spending billions of taxpayer dollars over the last 30 years in an effort to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system, the system still relies on World War II-era technology, and air traffic controllers managing the movement of planes by manually passing paper strips from controller to controller. This antiquated approach causes numerous flights around the country to be delayed.
For all the taxes we pay to the federal government, California gets hit especially hard by the FAA’s shortcomings. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT), nearly half the time wasted in flight delays at Los Angeles International Airport is caused by weaknesses in airport operations.
It’s even worse in San Francisco, where 65 percent of total delay minutes are attributed not to weather alone, but to an overwhelmed aviation system.
Nationally, these delays cost the economy an estimated $25 billion per year. And we can only expect the strain and congestion to grow worse, with total air traffic expected to grow to 1 billion passengers annually in the next decade.
Why is our aviation system failing us?
It isn’t for lack of spending. The FAA has spent $7 billion trying to improve our air traffic control system since 2009. But U.S. DOT and the U.S. Government Accountability Office have extensively documented the FAA’s difficulties in managing these upgrades while still meeting its oversight responsibilities as a safety regulator.
The reality is the FAA is a massive government bureaucracy of almost 50,000 employees. It has changed little since it was established in 1958, yet it is expected to operate like an agile tech-service provider.
I support the AIRR Act because it will establish a user-funded nonprofit organization to more efficiently and cost-effectively modernize our air traffic control systems. The nonprofit will be federally chartered but governed by aviation experts and stakeholders.
The AIRR Act will empower these experts to more credibly invest, develop and deploy upgrades to air traffic control technology, while still keeping them accountable to a board of directors for achieving cost-effective results. Meanwhile, the FAA will be tasked with focusing solely on its role as a safety regulator.
Freed from the complexities of modernizing air traffic control, the FAA will be able to focus on what should be its number one goal: Keeping the public safe.
The AIRR Act isn’t the first proposal to separate the management of air traffic control from its safety regulator. In fact, this legislation follows the example of at least 60 industrialized countries – including Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom – that have already modernized their aviation systems.
In every case, this international standard has facilitated improvements, reduced costs, and maintained or improved safety.
The AIRR Act will get U.S. aviation back on track to safely meet the demands of our flying public while saving taxpayers and our economy billions of dollars. Bringing our air traffic control into the 21st century is far past due. I urge our members of Congress to support this legislation.
George Runner is a member of the California State Board of Equalization, representing the Fresno area. Connect with him at (916) 445-2181 or visit www.boe.ca.gov/Runner.