Norman Mineta, the US Secretary of Transportation, yesterday bluntly dismissed privatising his nation's air traffic control (ATC) system as a means of easing airspace congestion.

Speaking at the US Pavilion at Le Bourget about the US's congested airways, he said much had already been done to ease delays, but privatisation was not part of the solution.

"There are some people who keep calling for privatisation of the ATC organisation. I'm not going to expend my time and political capital pursuing it, because it¹s a near impossible legislative effort in Congress to privatise ATC."

It makes for good rhetoric but I don't want to spend my time spinning my wheels trying to convince a resistant Congress.

"We can study it and I'm willing to see what aspects of it can be out-sourced, but to me, basic safety is the responsibility of the federal government."

Mineta's trenchant views are likely to arouse interest in both Canada, which has privatised its ATC service, NavCanada, and the UK, which has recently signed over 51% of its National Air Traffic Service to a management consortium that includes several airlines.

He noted that in 1997 he had chaired the National Civil Aviation Review Commission that had discussed this issue, which had decided "both from a legislative and organisational perspective" that it was not the way to go. Rather, it had felt very strongly that the ATC service within the Federal Aviation Administration had to be separated from the FAA's regulatory activities. With that in mind, the commission had recommended a performance-based organisation, described as an air traffic organisation with "business-like qualities".

"My job today as Secretary of Transportation is to ensure we get that organisation in place and working."

Mineta praised Canada's ATC service, NavCanada, for its "tremendous co-operation" in finding solutions to air traffic congestion and its generosity in opening up Canadian airspace to help US controllers.

Source: Flight Daily News