The aviation industry has always played a major role in California’s economy, which leads the nation in economic output associated with air travel.
Total direct travel spending in California was $126 billion last year alone, a large portion of which involved air travel. California is the transportation gateway to foreign trading partners, including Asia, and our prosperity is closely tied to the movement of goods and people as well as exports. California is also a destination for people from all over the United States and the world.
Needless to say, California has the most to lose from unnecessary flight delays that hinder U.S. businesses in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Fortunately, Congress can act now to reduce delays by modernizing our aviation system.
California has the most to lose from unnecessary flight delays that hinder U.S. businesses in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
That is why I hope our state’s full delegation in Congress will vote to pass the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act (AIRR Act). This bipartisan legislation is sorely needed to modernize our antiquated air traffic control system.
California’s travelers are among those most impacted by flight delays caused by our nation’s outdated ATC system. Among the nation’s major airports, San Francisco International Airport has one of the highest percentages of so-called “national airspace system” delays caused by overwhelmed airport operations. Los Angeles isn’t far behind; at LAX, nearly half of all delays could have been avoided by more efficient operations.
This burden needlessly threatens California’s economic competitiveness in the areas of tourism, freight and other industries that depend on prompt, reliable air travel. Californians are being disproportionately hamstrung by 1940s-era technology and procedures that dominate today’s ATC system.
The real problem is rooted in the ATC system’s governance structure. Having changed little since it was established in 1958, the FAA is still charged with managing ATC at some of the world’s busiest airports, while also planning for the industry’s future and regulating its systems for safety. This places unrealistic demands on this government bureaucracy whose inability to improve ATC demonstrates repeatedly why the AIRR Act is direly needed.
The AIRR Act, which is now pending before Congress, will enact a streamlined model that has already been implemented by over 60 other countries, such as Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, where the reforms have consistently resulted in improved air traffic services, modernized technology and reduced costs, all while maintaining or improving safety. Crucially, this model separates the task of managing ATC from the task of regulating aviation for safety.
For managing the ATC system, the AIRR Act will establish a federally chartered, fully independent nonprofit organization, vested with the authority and flexibility to make upgrades and investments needed to effectively modernize the system. This new nonprofit will be structured like a business, with a CEO who is accountable to a board of directors and empowered to make decisions based on market realities instead of dysfunctional political interests.
These changes will help our country make the investments necessary to correct course before further economic damage is done and potential is lost.
Allan Zaremberg is President and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at AZaremberg@calchamber.com.