Boots & Sabers

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2252, 04 Jun 17

Trump Plans to Privatize Air Traffic Controllers


President Trump is expected to announce Monday that he will move to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system as part of an infrastructure reform push this week.

A White House official confirmed to ABC News that, as first reported by the Washington Post, the administration will hold multiple events next week related to rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

In related news, Sweden deregulated its air traffic controllers a few years ago and they are innovating up a storm.

THE 67-metre-tall control tower that opened at San Francisco International Airport in October is a stylish structure that cost $120m. It is supposed to resemble a beacon of the sort used in ancient times to guide ships safely to harbour. Those in the know might be forgiven for wondering if the new control tower is less a beacon than a white elephant. Elsewhere, airport managers are starting to abandon the panopticons that have dominated airfields for decades in favour of remote-controlled versions that promise to be cheaper and safer. Instead, they are housed in ordinary low-rise buildings, in some cases hundreds of kilometres away from the facility they are monitoring.

These remote control towers receive a live video feed from cameras positioned around an airfield. The images are stitched together by computer and displayed on screens (as pictured above) to create a virtual view of the runways and taxiways being monitored. In some cases the screens surround the air-traffic controllers, creating a 360° image. Separate screens can be used to display different airfields, because some remote towers will control flights in and out of a number of airports.

The first airport to deploy a virtual control tower was the one that serves Ornskoldsvik, in northern Sweden, which is used by about 80,000 passengers a year. In April 2015 the conventional tower at this airport was closed. The controllers moved to a remote tower at Sundsvall, some 130km to the south, that had been built by LFV, Sweden’s air-navigation agency, and Saab, a Swedish technology firm. Last year, this tower also began monitoring flights at its local airport, Sundsvall-Timra. Next year it will start looking after those at Linkoping City Airport, in southern Sweden, too.

Meanwhile in the U.S.

At any given time, around 7,000 aircraft are flying over the United States. For the past 40 years, the same computer system has controlled all that high-altitude traffic—a relic of the 1970s known as Host. The core system predates the advent of the Global Positioning System, so Host uses point-to-point, ground-based radar. Every day, thousands of travelers switch their GPS-enabled smartphones to airplane mode while their flights are guided by technology that predates the Speak & Spell.


2252, 04 June 2017


  1. Kevin Scheunemann

    Excellent analogy for public schools….only we are talking 19th century stagnation in terms of teaching style.

    This is what happens when government monopolizes a private service too long.

  2. dad29

    HotAir has some concern about this being a ‘gift to the unions.’

  3. Pat

    This will have to go through congress. Should be interesting to see how that goes.

    Me thinks this is more of a ploy by Trump at distraction, much like the signing today which really didn’t accomplish anything other that give a visual for the cameras.

  4. Jason

    I have a friend who works at FAA. While there are aspects of the system that is old, HOSTS had been replaced. And guess what, it was a major systemic replacement that did not make headlines. The system had worked pretty well for 40+ years, scoff at it’s age compared to a speak and spell… it just works, reliably. That remote system in Sweden, I hope their cloud provider is perfect, like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure… oh wait, they have several major outages a year. I hope they have really good binoculars then to see Harrison Ford landing on a taxiway from hundreds of miles away.

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