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Are New York and Washington, D.C., drifting apart?

Welcome aboard, and thanks for flying United


jeff  Are New York and Washington, D.C., drifting apart? Or is the U.S. air traffic control system in desperate need of modernization?

When I first started in the airline business 20 years ago, the scheduled time for our flights between our Newark/New York hub and Washington National Airport was about an hour. Today, many of those flights are scheduled for about an hour and a half. I’m pretty sure that the tectonic plates haven’t caused the cities to drift 50 percent farther apart during that time. Instead, our nation’s air traffic control system, which relies on World War II–era ground-based radar technology, has become increasingly inefficient. That means you as customers must spend more time on the ground and in the air while traveling the same distances as you did before, and we as airlines must incur higher operating costs and burn more fuel simply to get from point A to point B. This antiquated and inefficient system, while safe, threatens the primacy of U.S. aviation.

A long string of reports from presidentially appointed aviation commissions, the Department of Transportation Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and independent private sector experts indicates that the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control modernization efforts have been plagued by significant cost overruns and delays and calls into question the ability of the FAA, under its current funding and governance structure, to deliver a modern, efficient air traffic control system that travelers, operators and our economy require. This isn’t a criticism of FAA leadership—past or present—or the frontline people who run one of the safest air traffic systems in the world. It’s a criticism of the political interference and start-and-stop funding that our government imposes on the FAA.

So how do we fix it? We have been working with our trade association, Airlines for America, to undertake considerable research on various models of air navigation service providers around the world to assess their safety, governance, and financial and operational performance compared to the U.S. system. We have concluded that a nonprofit, non-governmental enterprise, similar to the air navigation service provider of Canada (NAV CANADA), would provide the safest, most reliable, most efficient and most modern services to you as travelers and to us as users of the system.

As in other parts of the world, the modernized system would be financed by user fees, which would be transparent to airlines and their passengers. User fees would provide a steady and reliable stream of revenue to permit the nonprofit company to finance and implement a modern, satellite-based air navigation system, free of the start-and-stop funding of the current political process. The user fees would replace some of the 17 different, and often opaque, taxes and fees currently paid by the airline industry and its passengers to help fund the FAA. The nonprofit company would be governed by stakeholders, free from political influence, and would be managed by professional managers, who would work together with skilled air traffic controllers and other employees to deliver safe, efficient service. Safety, the primary mission of every air traffic control system, would continue to be regulated and overseen by the FAA, as it is today. Separating the provision of air navigation services from the regulatory oversight of those same services would also eliminate the inherent conflict of interest that the FAA has today (as both safety regulator and operator of the air navigation system) and would be consistent with the International Civil Aviation Organization guidelines calling for such separation.

While making this change won’t be easy, we believe it is necessary. Many other countries have taken on this challenge and have done it successfully, and the U.S. has the benefit of learning from their combined experience. We can make this important change without disruptions to safety or service. The risk of doing nothing is high. We simply cannot afford the status quo, which will leave us with an air traffic control system that, while safe, will not be prepared to meet the ever growing demands of our diverse aviation system.

Thanks again for flying United today.




.Jeff Smisek
Chairman of the Board, President
and Chief Executive Officer,
United Airlines

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