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Public Policy and Technology Management: Changing the Role of Government in the Operation of Air Traffic Control

August 15, 1995
By Richard A. Charles and Harvey K. Newman

This paper, written by Georgia State University School of Public Administration and Urban Studies professor Harvey Newman, examines how public-private partnerships form within and outside of nations’ government air traffic control (ATC) systems.

traffic jam

This paper, written by Georgia State University School of Public Administration and Urban Studies professor Harvey Newman, examines how public-private partnerships form within and outside of nations’ government air traffic control (ATC) systems.

Reform support, including support for reforming ATC, generally grows from small expert communities to broader, general constituencies, Newman writes.

As might be expected, the originally perceived need for improving ATC was identified by industry experts and the user community,” Newman and Charles write. “The need to form a public-private partnership (or to consider one as an option) would naturally tend to begin with those closest to an operation, program, or issue. They would be the first to be aware of conditions that might call for such action. Acting on their own, how ever, would not likely be very effective, particularly if the matter were one of broad interest. In the case of ATC, it was not until the issue had evolved and grown through organizations with progressively broader constituencies, from a single consultant to an industry organization to a national research organization, a consumer organization, and finally a presidential commission, that real progress actually began to occur and action was taken to change the form of the air traffic control organization.”

Efficiency and safety for consumers is inherently connected, Newman writes.

“A more efficiently run ATC system is inherently a safer ATC system,” Newman and Charles write. “To be considered further, however, is the present arrangement in which ATC is under the complete control of FAA, as one of its departments. FAA’s charter obligates it to maintain and enforce safety standards in aviation, while promoting the health and welfare of the industry. In that sense, some regard FAA’s relationship to the ATC system as one in which ‘FAA regulates itself,’ a conflict of interest. FAA regulates other entities in aviation, such as airlines, airports, and mechanics, at arm’s length, and does so effectively. Few would recommend, for example, that FAA own or operate airlines and airports to ensure that they are safe. It is widely believed that FAA’s relationship to ATC should be considered from the same perspective.”