Solve the FAA Problem by Privatization

August 4, 2011

Everyone agrees that it’s rather stupid for a federal funding dispute to idle about 70,000 workers on airport-related construction. Just as absurd, there have been 20 stop-gap funding bills passed for the FAA since 2007. News stories are digging into the political disputes surrounding the FAA, but they aren’t addressing the root problem.

The root problem is that we have federalized the funding of airports in this country, when there is absolutely no need to. Airports are generally owned by state and local governments, and it should be up to them to figure out how to finance them. By federalizing infrastructure financing, we are simply encouraging the misallocation of resources through the political pork barrel.

We should get the federal government out of financing airports. Then state governments should look to the advantages of airport privatization, which is a reform that has swept the world from London to Sydney. Private airports can plan their investment programs in an efficient manner, balancing costs and the market demand for services. Privatized airports can raise revenue from debt, equity, fees on airlines and passengers, advertising, retail concessions, and other items. There is no need for taxpayer funding of airports.

The FAA dispute doesn’t affect current air traffic control operations, but it is affecting investments in ATC upgrades. Our ATC system needs large new investments in technology, but it is a battle in Congress to secure funding and to make sure the funding is spent efficiently. The FAA has a very poor record at making cost-efficient investments. The solution is to privatize our ATC system, as Canada has done.

When the federal government is like an octopus with tentacles stretching into every area of the economy, the economy gets dragged down by political dysfunction in Washington. We see the same sort of dysfunction in the federal government’s other business activities, such as passenger rail and mail delivery.

A lot of people worry about the quality and quantity of the nation’s infrastructure investments. But we don’t need to rely on disorganized and indebted governments to fix the problems. We can move ahead with privatization and let America’s entrepreneurs take on the challenge.


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