Joshua L. Schank, an urban planner, is president and chief executive of the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation, which seeks to improve transportation policy. From 2007 to 2011, he directed the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Transportation Policy Project.
The sequester-related budget cuts that led the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to furlough air-traffic controllers, resulting in flight delays at virtually all major U.S. airports, has Congress and the administration pointing fingers at each other. But perhaps a more useful issue to address is why air-traffic controllers are FAA employees. There is no good reason for air traffic control and safety regulation to be under the same FAA umbrella, a setup that creates more problems than it solves.
The FAA is responsible for two basic functions: air safety regulation and air traffic control. (On Sunday, the agency began furloughing its air-traffic controllers for one day every two weeks, forcing the remaining controllers to slow the aviation system to avoid potential reductions in safety margins.) Although ensuring the safety of the flying public through regulation is a critical task that should remain under federal control, there is no inherent reason that air traffic control needs to be in the same agency or even the responsibility of the federal government.