President Trump Touts an Air Traffic Control System that Is Similar to Canada’s

by Greg Giaquinto, Electronic Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

Air Traffic Control Radar. Source: Pixnio

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to relinquish America’s air traffic control (ATC) system to a private, nonprofit entity with its own board comprising airlines, unions, airports, and federal officials, according to Wired.  In essence, Mr. Trump wants to privatize ATC to look something like a corporation.  This would be similar to Canada’s ATC system. 

In Canada, a private corporation, NAV CANADA, is responsible for operating Canada’s ATC system.  NAV CANADA coordinates the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in Canadian domestic airspace and in international airspace assigned to Canadian control.  NAV CANADA’s revenue comes from its aviation customers, not government subsidies.  NAV CANADA reports that because ATC is privatized in Canada, the ATC infrastructure is continuously kept up-to-date.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for ATC.  And at present, America’s ATC system is in need of substantial modernization.  The technology currently used by U.S. air traffic controllers is archaic at best.  According to an article by Reuters, when an ATC controller needs to hand off responsibility for monitoring a flight, details are printed on a slip of paper and passed to a co-worker.

Proponents of Mr. Trump’s privatization plan say a private entity could tap capital markets and sign contracts quickly by avoiding the FAA’s slow procurement process.  Furthermore, privatization of ATC in the U.S. would create new ATC systems to replace ground radar dating back to World War II.  According to Reuters, the new systems would represent major gains for U.S. companies like Harris Corp.  Harris is a leading candidate to supply the FAA with real-time aircraft tracking data in partnership with satellite operator Iridium Communications Inc.

On the downside, The Atlantic reports that privatizing ATC in the U.S. would take nearly two-thirds of the nation’s ATC workforce off the government payroll, including thousands of technicians and over 13,000 air traffic controllers.  This would reduce costs for the U.S. government, but it would also increase unemployment in the U.S.  The laid-off employees would be forced to compete for employment in the private sector.

Still, NAV CANADA’s track record demonstrates that privatizing ATC works.  Government spending on ATC is reduced and, at the same time, ATC equipment is modernized.  Consequently, NAV CANADA’s ATC model is something that the Trump administration could emulate with success.


As a senior analyst on Forecast International’s Military Electronics Systems series, Greg provides strategic counsel and services to clients regarding the defense communications and computer technology businesses. Regarded as an industry authority, Greg has served as a moderator for a discussion panel of corporate executives at the annual Military Communications Conference in Washington, DC.  Greg is widely recognized for his strong relationship with the media, and his commentary on the defense technology industry is cited frequently in publications that include Investor’s Business Daily and Bloomberg News.


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