Grizzle: No time to delay at U.S. airports

Any traveler idling on the tarmac at Logan Airport can credit our nation’s aging, antiquated air traffic control system for their hassle and delay in leaving Boston.

In fact, half of all flight delays are caused by air traffic control system constraints, and just as concerning, flight times are getting longer because controllers can’t keep pace with more congested air space.

With Congress now back in session, the House will soon decide whether to authorize the reforms our nation’s air traffic control system so desperately needs to effectively operate in an era of unprecedented passenger demand.

This is an issue not merely of convenience but of national security and for our national and local economies. In Massachusetts, aviation accounts for $13.1 billion of the state’s GDP and employs more than 162,000 workers.

Congress must act now if we are to enjoy a modern air traffic control system able to handle today’s traffic without cascading delays, but also to handle the even greater traffic demands of the future. The House will soon hold a critical vote on the 21st Century AIRR Act, a reform measure that is long overdue to secure the future of American aviation.

The FAA’s own numbers tell us that delays and cancellations cost our economy and our customers $25 billion every year.  A 2013 U.S. Travel Association report concluded delays and cancellations drove demand down by 8 percent and prompted passengers to avoid 38 million domestic air trips, costing the American economy $85 billion and 900,000 jobs.

The debate lies in the proposed solution. Some argue that we need to keep the current structure in place and invest more in it. Unfortunately, that’s the equivalent of throwing good money after bad.  Congress is already several billion dollars behind in getting systems for which they appropriated taxpayer money.

I’ve witnessed the professionalism and dedication of our FAA employees and controllers firsthand. This is not an indictment of them. The problem is the inert procurement and financing structure that hinders modernization efforts. In fact, the situation has gotten so bad that the FAA can’t recruit new controllers. This is an unsustainable status quo.

The proper solution is credited to President Clinton, who proposed in 1993 establishing an independent, nonprofit entity to run air traffic control. The idea now has the support of the current administration, House Speaker Paul Ryan, forward-thinking Democrats and the unions…

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