Like most federal agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration is a costly bureaucracy. Its $16.4 billion budget is enormous, but that is just the direct cost borne by taxpayers. The indirect costs, such as inefficiencies imposed on the air transportation system, also are significant. This has nothing to do with the TSA, by the way. The FAA is responsible for the air traffic control system, things like airport towers and radar systems that tell planes where to fly and when to land.
The Canadians have a much better approach. They privatized their air traffic control system back in the 1990s. So instead of having to rely on a clunky and incompetent government bureaucracy, our neighbors to the north have a private company that is generating very impressive results.
Not that this should be a surprise. Other nations have made remarkable gains through privatization, including Social Security personal accounts in Chile and 30 other nations, education choice in places such as Sweden and the Netherlands, and privatized postal service in Germany.
Reforming government monopolies should be a priority in the United States. Robust economic growth requires more than just low tax rates. It means getting rid of policies that cause resources to be misallocated. Privatization is an unsettling concept for some people, in part because they’ve always assumed certain things should be run by the government. This is why international examples are so important. Canada’s 14 years of experience with a private air traffic control system clearly shows that there are very successful alternatives to inefficient and costly bureaucracies.
Here are some excerpts from a story in Canada’s Financial Post about Canada’s remarkable reform.
A once troubled government asset, the country’s civil air traffic controller was privatized 14 years ago and is now a shining example of how to create a global technology leader out of a hulking government bureaucracy. Nav Canada’s efforts have flights moving more efficiently than ever through the skies above the country.
Many of the changes implemented by Nav Canada in recent years have gone unnoticed by the flying public. Certain flights are now shorter than they once were; aircraft no longer circle airports awaiting a runway; descents start further out and planes reach cruising altitudes more quickly; and flights to Asia now spend less time by jaunting over the Arctic than endlessly cruising the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.
…Nav Canada estimates its efforts to modernize the aircraft navigation system in the country since it was privatized in 1996 have cut the fuel bill of airlines flying into Canada and above it by an estimated $1.4-billion collectively…
Meantime, Nav Canada has won the respect of airlines for keeping its fees steady, and in some cases, like in 2006, even reducing them when it can.
…John Crichton, Nav Canada chief executive, makes no bones about why he thinks his organization has been able to make these improvements and emerge as a global leader.
I don’t think there’s any question that the privatization was the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “That really unleashed all the innovation.”
…Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada’s chief executive, commended Nav Canada for its efforts to modernize the country’s navigation systems during a speech in Montreal earlier this year, while condemning the United States and the European Union, which still operates as a patchwork of nationalized systems, for their lack of leadership on the issue. Nav Canada also won the International Air Transport Association’s Eagle Award earlier this year for its efforts, in particular its constant consultation with the industry.
My Cato colleague Chris Edwards has more analysis, including a call to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration as well as some useful links.