Privatization of Air Traffic Control

Privatization of Air Traffic Control

Pauline Nawiri

University Affiliation

Looking across the global landscape, governments have been privatizing several public owned industries as a way of cutting costs, increasing productivity and injecting innovation. In spite of huge success stories, privatization of air traffic control (ATC) remains contentious. This is because there are almost as many benefits as there are disadvantages.

Those in favour of privatization argue that it will improve air security. This is because the private enterprises have the ability to embark on a rapid modernization exercise as compared to what can be allowed within the government resources (Poole and Edwards, 2010).Looking at the case of Canada and Australia, private enterprises were able to procure new technologies immediately after privatization (Sclar, 2003).

Another advantage is that the private enterprises will be able to charge user fees assuring them of a regular income flow. As a result, Poole and Edwards (2010) notes long term bonds can be issued to fund ATC programmes, which will enhance efficiency and cut down costs. These user fees are rarely charged by governments, and most of the money comes from the budget allocation which is not enough.

It is also in order that governments are warned that privatization of ATC is not a panacea. A review of Australia, Canada and Great Britain demonstrates that privatized ATC tends to impose greater costs on users. In the example of Nav-Canada, privatization is said to have led to massive increases in user fees to passengers making flying more expensive (Sclar, 2003).Besides, privatized ATC have proved to be more expensive to manage. Given that governments have a responsibility of ensuring continuity of services, Sclar (2003) points out that in 2002, the British government had to bail out National Air Traffic Services twice to the tune of $131 million which was close to two-thirds of original sell price.

Even though privatization has been hailed as a way of keeping down costs, this has been achieved at the expense of air traffic controllers who have had to take on heavier workloads. For example, in Canada, the controllers are understaffed to the point of being unable to perform their jobs, while Australia has witnessed a series of strikes by controllers (Sclar, 2003). It can thus be deduced that the security of travelers cannot be guaranteed.

In conclusion, it can be said that any nation contemplating ATC privatization should tread carefully because this is one area that may be equated to a minefield.


Poole, R. and Edwards, C. (2010). Airports and Air Traffic Control. Cato Institute

Sclar, E. (2003). Pitfalls of Air Traffic Control Privatization. New York: National Air Traffic

Controllers Association.