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Leading U.S. Air Travel in the 21st Century | Southwest Airlines

“I’m hopeful that Congress will work in a bipartisan fashion to enact common sense reforms to create a more modern, customer-friendly and environmentally friendly ATC system, while also keeping the FAA as the safety regulator.” Gary Kelly 

Orlando’s economic outlook is bright and, undoubtedly, the travel and tourism sector is a significant component of the local economy. In 2016, 68 million travelers visited the Orlando area, which was a new annual record. There is every reason to believe 2017 will be another record-breaking year.

Orlando International Airport (OIA) is a major driver of this economic growth. OIA served nearly 42 million passengers in 2016 and is now Florida’s second busiest airport. Southwest Airlines is OIA’s largest airline with more than 120 daily departures and growing.

To meet long-term travel demand, it is critically important to have adequate infrastructure on the ground and in the air. This means an airport that is operationally safe and efficient, as well as airspace that is safe and efficient. Therefore, the airport and the airspace must have the capacity to accommodate new flights, because new flights mean more visitors supporting more jobs and businesses in Orlando.

“Air travel is not only important to people; it’s vital to our economy,” said Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines. “Just as Southwest is investing to support more traffic in the future, so must our airports and federal government.”

OIA is doing its part with a multi-billion-dollar capital plan and the ability to finance and implement its long-term planning needs. The United States Air Traffic Control (ATC) system is an entirely different story.

The United States ATC system is safe, led by a skilled and dedicated controller workforce.  However, it is antiquated, and not very customer or environmentally friendly. That is because the technology on which the system is based — radar — is outdated and inefficient, and the U.S. government’s funding process and procurement rules prevent any proper long-term planning and investments in order to create a modern, satellite-based system.

Change On the Horizon

But there is hope. Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to reform how the ATC system is governed and funded. This legislation would create a new not-for-profit entity that will oversee the ATC operation and spearhead its modernization. This entity would be free from partisan gridlock, government budget shutdowns and bureaucratic red tape. It would also have the ability to bond-finance its capital plans.

Most importantly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would continue to regulate aviation safety, as it does today, and controllers would remain on the job and continue to manage day-to-day flight activities. The nation’s leading airlines, pilot groups and controllers’ union all support this proposal.

It may be surprising to know the United States is one of only a few developed countries that still has a government agency both operating its ATC system and regulating the aviation system. In fact, nearly 60 countries have separated those two functions while maintaining or improving air safety.

The U.S. ATC system now lags behind many other countries in terms of replacing outdated radar systems with GPS-based landing systems and other upgrades. The lack of significant progress with ATC modernization has placed a tremendous cost burden on our economy as a result of avoidable flight delays and cancellations, as well as inefficient flight patterns that needlessly waste jet fuel.

“I’m hopeful that Congress will work in a bipartisan fashion to enact common sense reforms to create a more modern, customer-friendly and environmentally friendly ATC system, while also keeping the FAA as the safety regulator,” said Kelly.

Through this reform effort, consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries by having a satellite-based system that will result in less airspace congestion, improved flight times between cities, and fewer delays, cancellations and carbon dioxide emissions. Plus, it will make the world’s safest system even safer.

To learn more about Air Traffic Control Reform, please visit www.ModernSkies.org.

About the author

i4 Business

i4 Business

I4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders, along with economic trends that are shaping our region.