Project Report:
Reform of Air Traffic Control System
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Conducted projects to build support for reform: 1) continued educational outreach to private pilots and environmental organizations; 2) a study to assess the feasibility of applying net-centric ATC technology to improving airport capacity, drawing on the expertise of industry professionals, technology experts and environmental groups.

Air Traffic Control



Reason Foundation believes that major transportation infrastructure, such as airports, air traffic control, limited-access highways, and seaports, etc—should be run as business enterprises. This market-based paradigm means that transportation infrastructure would be operated on a commercial basis, be self-supporting from fees and charges paid by their users, raise funds for large-scale projects in the capital markets, keep books via generally accepted accounting principles, and charge market prices as a tool for matching capacity with demand.

In 2006 Reason released a new policy study aimed primarily at the business aviation community—corporate planes, fractionally owned planes, and air taxi/charter companies. The study linked major expansion of ATC capacity to the timely implementation of the NGATS plan (see below) and argued that a new funding system tying revenue to system use is essential, along with an institutional framework that ensures greater responsiveness to aviation customers. It then estimated the impact on business jets of several alternative user-fee approaches, finding that the impact could be positive on two of the three major categories of business aviation, and that even for corporate-owned jets, the value of future time savings would likely offset increased ATC charges. An outreach effort produced articles in Chief Executive and Professional Pilot magazines, as well as presentations at conferences of Airports Council International and the International Civil Aviation Organization in autumn 2006.

"Increasing Airport Capacity Without Increasing Airport Size", released in February 2008, explores the possibilities for dealing with increased airport demand by expanding the functional capacity of an airport without expanding its boundaries. (The full study is attached to this grant report.)

The United States faces a real possibility of running out of airport capacity—not everywhere, but in particular at a number of the 35 most important airports in the national system. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, these are airports in large, urbanized areas such as New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The problem is seldom lack of capacity in airport terminals. Large airports are financially self-supporting, and are generally able to finance terminal expansions. Rather, the problem is one of adding needed runway capacity. Without enough runway capacity, these airports will face increasingly serious problems of delay, which already plague the New York airports. Most of the critically important urban-area airports are hemmed in by expensive real estate. Adding a new runway of between one and two miles in length, spaced the required 4,300 feet from existing runways, typically requires large amounts of land, which many airports do not own. This often leads to divisive, protracted battles with airport neighbors to acquire the needed land. Even when the airport eventually prevails (which is often not the case), the long delay in adding the new runway can mean a decade or more of extra delays, as well as construction costs significantly increased due to inflation over the ensuing years.

What if there were ways to expand the runway capacity of an airport without expanding the airport’s footprint? That would mean that an urban area could receive the economic benefits that come along with continued growth in air service without the protracted battles over land acquisition, and without the long delays attendant to such battles. The purpose of the policy study is to explore an array of new technologies that hold significant promise for expanding the functional capacity of airport runways. These technologies—most of which already exist—are planned for incorporation into a completely new air traffic control system to replace the current system over the next 20 years. The overall concept of operations and system architecture is being developed by a federal inter-agency planning group, the Joint Planning & Development Office, advised by aerospace/electronics industry teams. This new approach is being called the NextGen system.

Currently, runway capacity is limited by five factors:
• In-trail separation of aircraft—how closely aircraft can be spaced one after another when approaching the runway;
• Lateral separation, especially in bad weather, between aircraft approaching the same airport on parallel runways;
• The sequencing and separation of departing and landing aircraft on runways that intersect (e.g., at LaGuardia);
• The sequencing of departing and arriving aircraft on a single runway; and
• The sequencing of aircraft approaching airports located in close proximity to one another, where one aircraft must cross the path of another aircraft landing at a nearby airport (e.g., in the Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York metro areas).

In broad outline, NextGen addresses these constraints in the following ways:
• Use already developed but not fully implemented aircraft communication devices to safely reduce the physical separation of aircraft;
• Use specialized approach and departure procedures, now being implemented at a few locations, as the standard for all approaches and departures;
• Improve the management of aircraft wake turbulence in the airport vicinity; and
• Use these same technologies with central computer systems to manage aircraft movements on the ground.

The study explains the core NextGen technologies and procedures that can be used to increase airport runway capacity without expanding the airport’s geographical boundaries. It then shows how these technologies could be applied to address specific types of runway capacity problems, using San Francisco International and the three main New York airports as illustrative examples.

The same technologies also offer realistic prospects for reducing the noise impact of airports on their neighbors. These benefits will be accompanied by savings for aircraft operators—on fuel use, crew time, and aircraft utilization. The reductions in fuel use and more efficient use of engines at lower altitudes will bring about noticeable reductions in emissions, producing both local and global benefits.

Airport officials, transportation planners and concerned citizens need to become aware of these new capabilities. Although full implementation of NextGen is probably 10-20 years away, the planning horizon for runway addition projects—especially if organized opposition to airport expansion is expected—is also likely to be one to two decades. Thus, planning for future expansion of runway capacity needs to begin taking into account what will be possible to do within 10-20 years that has not been possible up till now. In addition, everyone concerned about having adequate airport capacity in America’s urban areas should support the timely implementation of NextGen by the federal government and the aviation industry.

The project director is Robert Poole, who is a member of the IPT for the Agile ATS. Principal investigator is Viggo Butler, former CEO of Airport Group International and former member of the FAA’s Research, Engineering & Development Advisory Committee (REDAC). This effort got under way in January 2007.

Butler visited senior officials of the FAA and Airports Council International in Washington, DC to develop a list of candidate airports. After reviewing the data, he selected San Francisco and the New York City airports of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He made site visits to the relevant airport authorities to discuss the project, obtain data, and ensure ongoing cooperation. Both Butler and Poole will continue to meet with airport officials and industry leaders to continue discussion of the study's ideas.

Update: The full 2008 study "Increasing Airport Capacity Without Increasing Airport Size" is attached to this report.


Reason Foundation believes that major transportation infrastructure, such as airports, air traffic control, limited-access highways, and seaports, etc—should be run as business enterprises. This market-based paradigm means that transportation infrastructure would be operated on a commercial basis, be self-supporting from fees and charges paid by their users, raise funds for large-scale projects in the capital markets, keep books via generally accepted accounting principles, and charge market prices as a tool for matching capacity with demand. Considerable evidence from other countries shows that this market-driven enterprise works better than the prevailing government-controlled model currently used in the United States. Yet union pressure has stifled progress and successfully blocked valuable technological and efficiency gains by mobilizing anti-privatization campaigns. Reason counters by educating legislators and the public on the benefits of privatization and competition, using data and facts to create a solid case for the market-based paradigm.


Reason changes public policy by helping legislators develop market-oriented, performance-based government solutions that rely on local, private, and voluntary action. The long-term goal of our aviation work is to develop and implement a market-based infrastructure. To ensure the overburdened air traffic control system can meet growing capacity needs and fund technological improvements, ATC should be shifted to a market driven system that directly charges users, i.e. aircraft owners, instead of relying on the current system’s declining tax base. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Labor leaders trace Bush's embrace of air traffic control privatization to the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles think tank that endorses limited government and whose transportation specialist, Robert Poole Jr., was a Bush campaign adviser and present during the White House transition.”

Information Dissemination

Reason disseminates ideas to both policy audiences and to the general public using studies, articles, and newsletters. We hold news conferences or workshops in connection with our studies, creating additional awareness of both the study and Reason through increased print and broadcast news coverage. Recognizing the influence of the media on policy change, we work to expand our visibility in high-profile media outlets. Overall, the Transportation Program received coverage in over 270 print publications between October 2004 (the start of Reason’s FY 2005) and September 2005. Those publications have a combined circulation of over 50 million people. Robert Poole appeared on ABC World News Tonight and on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” Op-eds and articles featuring the Transportation Program’s work appeared in such national publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today as well as major newspapers in large metro areas such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Sacramento, San Jose, Milwaukee, and Seattle. Reason’s transportation program also reaches an influential transportation-focused audience with e-mails and newsletters targeted to recipients with interests in surface transportation. This targeted audience includes federal, state, and local agency legislators and officials dealing with transportation issues; government affairs people at key companies and trade associations; and reporters and editorial writers who cover transportation issues. "Increasing Airport Capacity Without Increasing Airport Size" will be promoted via op-eds and commentary that will be published on as well as submitted to national, regional, and industry publications.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$30,000.00 on 11/30/2005 (Check sent: 12/12/2005)

  Related Organizations
Reason Foundation  

Air Traffic Control
Letter from Jack Gottesman, UPROAR (Doc)
Report - Increasing Airport Capacity Without Increasing Airport Size (PDF)
Atlanta Airport article

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Melissa Palmer
Director of Development, Reason Foundation

Posted 5/8/2006 1:27 PM
Updated   4/10/2015 12:25 PM

Atlanta Airport article
Ten years after the Foundation-supported Reason Study, Atlanta announced the implementation of technology expanding airport capacity without requiring an expensive physical expansion of the airport. the FAA plans to apply the technology to other airports during the next few years.

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