U.S. Comes Calling on Nav Canada

The U.S. is looking north to fix its ATC problems.
The U.S. is looking north to fix its ATC problems.

Nav Canada has hosted more than a dozen delegations from the U.S. in recent months as Americans look at alternatives to their government owned and run airspace management system.

The U.S. Congress could, as early as November, consider bills to separate air traffic from the FAA. The current model being proposed would share many of the basic operating principles of  Nav Canada, hence the interest.

Since user fees are a fundamental aspect of the non-profit corporation model used by Nav Canada, the notion is controversial in the U.S., especially in the general aviation community.

In fact, one of the current AOPA President Mark Baker’s first initiatives when he got the job in 2014 was to take a delegation to Ottawa to learn about privatized air traffic control. He later re-iterated his organization’s opposition to user fees, which they view as a irreversible first step toward ever increasing fees and bureaucracy. The system is now funded by direct taxation of avgas and jet fuel.

Since last year, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), groups representing airlines, unions and aviation groups have met with Nav Canada Chairman John Crichton who unabashedly tells them the Canadian system is more efficient and flexible.

“This business of ours has evolved long past the time when government should be in it,” Crichton told the WSJ. “Governments are not suited to run…dynamic, high-tech, 24-hour businesses. When they try, they mess up.”

Although the user fee issue is likely behind the opposition, the most stated reason from opponents is that the Nav Canada model isn’t scalable to the much busier U.S. airspace.

Interestingly, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association shares that concern but its president Paul Rinaldi says he’s willing to consider it or just about anything else than the current politicized system that doesn’t enable long-term planning.

“The status quo is completely unacceptable,” Rinaldi told WSJ.