More NextGen rollouts as White House floats air traffic shift

The FAA has NextGen DataComm capabilities working at some of the busiest airports in the U.S., but the White House proposes shifting air traffic control to a private entity, which some say could blunt the effort.

Photo credit: Valerii Iavtushenko / Shutterstock.com
 

The Federal Aviation Administration is adding to growing list of airports that are running the DataComm capabilities developed under its NextGen modernization effort. Even so, the White House wants to outsource federal air traffic control duties to a private entity, beginning with the fiscal year 2018 budget.

DataComm, the text-based supplemental communications system for aircraft pilots and control towers developed under the agency's NextGen program, is up and running at five New York City airports and at Miami International Airport, according to the FAA’s March 16 statement.

The FAA's announcements came just before the White House released its fiscal 2018 budget proposal that, if approved by Congress, would kick off a multi-year effort to shift the agency's air traffic control  function to an independent, non-governmental organization.

According to the White House's budget statement, the move would make the air traffic control system more efficient and technologically innovative, but maintain safety by leaving those functions with the FAA.

The move was anticipated by some in Congress as the budget was being prepared.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and committee Vice Chairman and Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a Feb. 28 letter to Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that such a shift to a private company could endanger progress made under the FAA's NextGen program.

The senators said the FAA's innovative, collaborative approach to NextGen is producing cost savings and improving air traffic flows in dynamic collaboration with the aviation industry. If air traffic control were separated from the FAA in the face of rapid technological advancements, they said, progress to implement the technology would be lost.

The airline industry association applauded the proposed move to outsource air traffic control because it said it could bring more innovation and provide steadier funding, resulting in a quicker, more effective path for system modernization efforts. The association said it has consistently advocated putting the function under an independent, not-for-profit entity funded by system users. 

General aviation groups weren't happy with the proposal, however.

In a March 16 statement, National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen "strongly" opposed the administration's budget, which he said endorses  air traffic control system privatization. The move, Bolen said, would adversely affect "countless small and mid-size communities across the U.S., which rely on general aviation."

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