THE United States air traffic control system will become a wholly owned government-sponsored corporation, Clinton administration officials announced May 3 at Washington National Airport. The US Air Traffic Services Corporation (USATS) will be run within the Department of Transportation, supported by commercial users of the system.
The decision to move air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which will now maintain safety oversight, to a government firm was the result of 10 years of study. As summarized by the Transportation secretary's Executive Oversight Committee, ``A traditional government agency is simply not structured to manage a high-technology operational service such as air traffic control.'' The Executive Oversight Committee also found that:
* The current system is characterized by obsolete technology.
* Air traffic control problems cannot be solved by internal FAA reforms.
* Financing air traffic control as a business would facilitate borrowing funds to make improvements.
* Businesslike practices can reduce the financial burden on users and taxpayers.
``We certainly support the concept of [the change],'' says Jeff Beddow, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Washington. ``The FAA has been a big, bungling bureaucracy.'' He says he hopes the new corporation will deal with understaffing and equipment issues more efficiently.
``[The FAA] hasn't been a system that has been able to respond to user needs,'' says Walt Coleman, president of the Regional Airline Association, which also supports the move. Mr. Coleman says he hopes more-sophisticated equipment, like Doppler radar, will be put in place under the new corporation, which should help reduce delays that disproportionately affect commuter airlines. Because budget constraints require a formal bidding process, the FAA has not been quick to adopt to new technology, he adds.
The change is part of the Clinton ``Aviation Initiative,'' unveiled in January, to revitalize the flagging airline industry. The USATS is expected to commence activities within a year.