An Analysis of Privatization of Air Traffic Control

Air traffic control
  • What do you mean by Air Traffic Control? – Air traffic control (ATC) is a service provided by controllers who are situated on the ground. Their main task is to direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace. Apart from this, they can also provide advisory services to aircrafts in the non-controlled airspace. The purpose that the air traffic controllers serve worldwide is to prevent collisions between the aircrafts, organize and facilitate the flow of air traffic and furnish information and other necessary support to the pilots. In some countries, the Air traffic control mechanism plays a security and defensive role also and is sometimes operated by the country’s military. To prevent collisions between aircrafts, the Air traffic control enforces traffic separation rules which have the primary task of ensuring that each aircraft maintains a minimum amount of empty space around it at all times so as to avoid being hit by another aircraft. In many countries, the Air traffic control administers services to all private, military and commercial aircrafts. Based on the data collected regarding the type of flight and the class of airspace the Air traffic control may assign instructions to the pilots that are mandatory for them to follow or may issue advisories which the pilots may or may not follow. 
  • The Airports Authority of India (AAI)AAI is a body under the Ministry of Civil Aviation of India and is responsible for creating, upgrading and maintaining the civil aviation infrastructure in India. Its primary task is providing Air Traffic Management (ATM) services to Indian airspace and neighboring oceanic areas. It is the manager of a sum total of 125 airports all over India.

Air Traffic Management (ATM) is a term used to denote all the systems that help and assist aircrafts to depart from an aerodrome, travel in airspace and subsequently land at the destination aerodrome. It includes and encompasses Air Traffic Control (ATM), Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel (ATSEP), Air Space Management (ASM), aeronautical meteorology, air navigation systems, Air Traffic Services (ATS), Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) and Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management (ATFCM).

  • Privatization of air traffic control in the United States of America –

The news that came after the 45th President of the United States of America Donald trump got elected was that there are chances that the federal government could pass on the US air traffic control system into private management hands. This idea is getting popular supportive feedback from the new President-elect and his team.

Bill Shuster who is in-charge of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee and Elaine Chao, incoming Transportation Secretary are supporting privatization of air traffic control and have made a case for moving the country’s 14,500 air traffic controllers out of government control and in the hands of a non-profit organization. The argument given in this proposition’s favor is that privatization will allow for a more efficient system and would provide rapid, cost-effective improvements in terms of technology by avoiding the government procurement processes.

Presently, a federal agency the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in-charge of overseeing the air traffic control of the nation but the as part of the reauthorization of the FAA, the Congressional Republicans are proposing a major change in how the air traffic control system works. Many countries like Canada and United Kingdom have privatized their air traffic control systems. While the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is in favor of this proposition with arguments like this would ensure that the air traffic controllers would keep their union-negotiated contracts, the National Business Aviation Association which represents thousands of corporate and individual business jet owners has strongly opposed this proposition.

  • Pros of privatization of air traffic control in the US-
  • Can help remove Air traffic control from governmental budget process and in place of that the nation’s control towers would be funded through user fees (taxes tacked on to commercial airline tickets)
  • Can provide a stable and predictable funding stream for Air traffic control
  • Will ensure that the air traffic controllers keep their union-negotiated contracts in place
  • Safety and efficiency can remain priorities
  • Without this measure, the Air traffic control system would not be able to keep up with growing air traffic demands and congestion will also increase
  • Will present Air traffic control to new and improved technologies
  • Will expand airspace capacity and can help save fuel by allowing the aircrafts to fly in more direct routes
  • Air traffic control service can be provided to all segments of the aviation community right from commercial carriers to general aviation and from large to small airports
  • A private system would be more flexible, dynamic and better managed
  • Cons of privatization of air traffic control in the US- 
  • Opponents have argued that the US Air traffic control system is so large that privatization would not save money, instead would shoot up ticket prices and create a national security risk.
  • Concerns are also there that the airlines would dominate the private-company board and limit access to airports by business jets.
  • Gives a private corporation the power to levy tax on the general public to pay for the costs of safe operations
  • Will lead to the handing over of a public asset worth billions of dollars to a private corporation absolutely free of cost


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