At moments like this, it is useful to step back from some of the day to day debates we engage in and reflect more broadly on the forces impacting the general aviation community and other national interests as well. I think we need to recognize that there are real changes taking place in the way government delivers and funds services…changes that affect all of us!
The FAA’s decision to stop funding operations in air traffic control towers has launched a search for alternative methods to keep these towers open in communities across the country. In some cases, states are stepping forward. In other situations, airport authorities with their own funding sources are indicating their towers will not be allowed to close. In other communities a search for local funding from businesses and operators who benefit by having the tower is underway.
But, it is not just aviation where this is occurring.
In healthcare, the fear of not having the kind of medical service desired has caused a growth of concierge health services for those who can pay for more immediate and personal service.
With the threat of TSA lines getting longer, services are being offered to expedite the clearance process, again for those who can afford to pay.
Obviously, our nation’s highways are seeing an increased use of toll lanes. And, now, even in some areas the tolls vary depending on the traffic conditions or time of day.
With the ease of collecting fees, it seems that charging those individuals who desire a certain type or level of service is becoming more common place.
These changes will most certainly cause people to think differently about the way in which services are being delivered. If communities are going to pay for their own air traffic control services, I suspect hours of operation and the levels of service will be issues that those who pay will want to have more say over and they will look less to the federal government since they seem determined to step away from offering support.
Will this change the way we look at other aspects of air traffic control? Will there be a renewed debate over just how we actually deliver air traffic control services? I suspect there will be such a debate especially as those who operate in the system are being asked to pay more.
The path to modernize our air traffic control system requires aircraft operators to place certain equipment in the planes they fly. This makes sense only if the organization running the air traffic control system has the capacity to provide services that allow those who equip to use the technology….something that is of growing concern to the entire aviation community.
You see, if one day we learn that 149 towers are closing, what’s next?
I really do believe we are more at the beginning of a discussion about the role the federal government plays with regard to air traffic operations than we are at the end of a dialogue.
It has long been the case that the failure to make a decision in Washington, D.C. is in and of itself a decision.
We are implementing very significant changes because policy makers in Washington did not act to avoid sequestration. But, that “decision” will most certainly cause a whole new look at the way services are being provided and funded….and, in this debate, our air traffic control system will come under ever closer scrutiny.
We have the most complex and safest air traffic system in the world because every day the pilots who fly planes and the controllers who guide and direct tens of thousands of operations work together insuring that citizens can utilize over 5,000 public use airports. I continue to believe we have a community that can work together to meet real challenges, but we need to come together now more than ever as the federal government’s role seems very much in flux.