Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where Angels Fear



As I was strolling through the internet park yesterday, I ran across this blog entry from Matthew Yglesias. Mr. Yglesias is one of the wunderkind of the internet. I hate arguing with people that are smarter than me -- but he asked for it.

”So provisionally I’m on board—we need a Nav Canada for the United States. Or maybe we could team up and have a Nav North America. But if there are readers out there with more intimate knowledge of air traffic management than I have, please do send in some emails with thoughts and links. “

I was doing just that, yesterday, when the local power company pulled the plug. The next thing you know, I’m no longer writing an email -- I’m writing a book. Brevity isn’t my strong suit.

First, let me deal with the privatization (or corporatization) of air traffic control. I would have thought we had learned our lesson. We’re within an inch of nationalizing the banks but we want to privatize the ATC system ? Robert Poole will argue that he’s not trying to sell privatization. Okay. Think Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They were (supposedly) just GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises). There wasn’t supposed to be a government guarantee behind them. But there was -- implicitly. And when trouble hit, that implicit guarantee faced reality. Expensive reality. We bailed them out. Does anyone think ATC would be any different ?

Air Traffic Control, indeed, the whole National Airspace System carries that same implicit government guarantee. Think “too big to fail”.

Moving on to “Market-value runway pricing “. What price LaGuardia ? At 8 AM ? Seriously. Is there any price Delta, American, United, etc. wouldn’t pay for the prime slots at LaGuardia ? Business executives are willing to spend $30 million on their own private jet. Do you think they’ll balk at a $2,000 ticket ? That is all that will happen. The airlines will pay anything because they’ll just pass it along to their customers (businesses) which will just pass it along to theirs. What happened to the Deregulation sales pitch of cheaper tickets ?

Moving on. No one is going to reinvent air traffic control. ATC evolves. Slowly. The FAA may get their ADS-B system but it won’t replace radar. NextGen is just another sales job like URET. URET saved the airlines so much money they went broke. Did I mention it won’t replace radar ?

Hey, the man said he wanted links. Links ? I’ve got links. Lots of links. There’s no need to make you read the whole book. Most of you already have.

P.S. Thanks to “JLW” for the plug in the comments section.

Don Brown
February 25, 2009

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