By DebbieH 28 Jan 2019 6 min read

Could US government shutdown lead to privatizing air traffic control and airport security?


The final day of the US government shutdown featured profound air traffic delays at three major east coast airports due to a lack of air traffic controllers. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, staffing levels reached a 30-year low as controllers, who were asked to work without pay, failed to turn up for work.

As the shutdown entered its 35th day Friday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration delayed flights at one of the country’s largest airports, LaGuardia for “staffing issues”.

Speaking to The Guardian, Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, noted that as a result of the threat of shutdowns, the air traffic controllers’ own union has come down in favor of privatisation.

“They pointed to the fact that there are these budget disruptions that are damaging to them and their profession, and that air traffic control technology upgrading has become imperiled by this dysfunction,” Edwards said.

According to ABC St. Louis, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says that if workers are able to maintain their salaries and benefits, that they support privatization.

Supporters also say that privatisation would speed up the U.S. air traffic control’s move to a more modern and efficient system. Critics however, say privatisation could impede the move into the next generation system.

Some airlines are not on board with privatisation. Delta Airlines says that fliers could pay more to fly, while private jet owners are concerned that air traffic control run by the major airlines will impact on their freedom to fly in U.S. airspace.

They also say that the U.S. air traffic control system is too big and complex to change, and that it is already considered to be the safest in the world.

Staffing shortages with the Transportation Security Administration, another federally staffed agency, also affected air travellers with longer waiting times at security checkpoints in some airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. Many nations, including Canada and most of Europe have privatised these functions too.

Most government services affected by the shutdown – from tax collection to food inspection, air monitoring and even the federal court system – couldn’t be separated from government administration as easily as air traffic or security.



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